Lead the Way

Dale and Debbie Sims, members of WCU’s “Lead the Way” steering committee, will serve as emcees for the May 2 event.

A community celebration will be held at Western Carolina University from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2, to announce the final tally of “Lead the Way: A Campaign Inspired by the Belcher Years.”

The event at the Ramsey Center is the culmination of a seven-year campaign that began when former WCU Chancellor David Belcher pledged to ensure access to higher education for all capable students. That pledge eventually led to the start of a comprehensive fundraising campaign – only the second in WCU’s history, and one that focused on the need for increased scholarship support. The goal was to raise $60 million.

The “big reveal” of the campaign total will come between noon and 12:30 p.m. Lunch will be served and entertainment will be provided by WCU’s Purple Thunder drum line and the Catamount Singers and Electric Soul.

The ambitious campaign will go down in the record books as a turning point in the university’s history, said Dale and Debbie Sims, members of the “Lead the Way” steering committee and emcees of the event.

“If we look to the past, we can definitely say our ‘Lead the Way’ campaign is historic, both in terms of how much has been raised and how many generous donors have contributed. If we look to the future, we can say this campaign is life-changing for our students – and for many years to come,” said Dale Sims, a former member and chair of the Foundation Board.

“When we were asked to serve as emcees, we were of course honored,” said Debbie Sims, who serves on the Foundation Board. “Candidly, we also had to pause and think about it. Our love and pride for WCU and its students run deep, and we needed to be confident we could get through the program without our emotions spilling over. We’re still not sure we will be able to hold it together, but we said ‘yes.’”

Raising money for scholarship support was the late chancellor’s philanthropic priority when he arrived at WCU in July 2011; he was officially installed on March 29, 2012, as WCU’s 11th chancellor.

In October 2017, Belcher and his wife, Susan, pledged $1.23 million in the form of cash donations and an estate gift for the university to kick off the public phase of the fundraising effort with a goal of $60 million by spring 2019. The Belchers said that they had decided to direct their philanthropic gifts toward scholarships because students represent their shared passion.

“Students were why Susan and I took the leap to join Western Carolina University six-and-a-half years ago to change lives. They are our reason for being. They are our joy,” he said.

Belcher took a medical leave of absence from the university in December 2017 and died June 17, 2018, from brain cancer.

For more information about the May 2 campaign celebration event, contact DonorRelations@wcu.edu or 227-3090.