MCPHERSON, Kan. (KSNW) — An alum of McPherson College has left $1.5 million to his alma mater. The school says $1 million of the gift from the Dean Coughenour Trust will fund $50,000 in scholarships each year. The rest of the gift will support the Student Debt Project.

Dean and Verlla Coughenour (Courtesy McPherson College)

Dean Coughenour was raised by a single mom during the Great Depression. The family said he would not have been able to attend college without financial help from a McPherson-area doctor. Coughenour attended McPherson College and graduated in 1951. He also met his wife Verlla, who was a student at the college.

The Coughenours moved to Oberlin, where Dean Coughenour taught high school for five years. After that, they moved to Manhattan, where he purchased Ag Press and served as editor of the Grass and Grain newspaper. He successfully built his publishing business for the next 30 years.

Their daughter said that “paying it forward” was important to her father.

“McPherson College was one of the few things that my dad consistently supported,” Susan Lundstrom said. “His experience there established a foundation for the rest of his life. It seems fitting that we continued to support something so dear to him.”

Dean Coughenour died in 2012. Verlla Coughenour died in 2021.

The Dean Coughenour Endowed Scholarship will focus on Kansas students who demonstrate financial need, especially those who have shown leadership abilities.

Students participating in the Student Debt Project are required to work. All the income earned from their work is applied to their McPherson College account, which earns them a 25% match, funded by McPherson College donors. In the fourth year of the program, students have reduced their debt at graduation by $12,000 per student, and the retention of students participating in the program is 93%.

“Both of these initiatives appealed to me,” Lundstrom said. “They reflect my Dad’s belief that students should take responsibility for their education while also honoring his commitment to paying back the kindness given to him as a student.”

“Dean believed that students should have some ‘skin in the game’ and take responsibility for their college education,” McPherson College President Michael Schneider said in a news release. “Both Dean and Verlla recognized the importance of work and would be pleased with the progress students are making to graduate debt free. We are grateful that the Dean Coughenour Trust is recognizing the legacy of two special, hard-working McPherson College graduates.”

The school has celebrated several donations and developments this year. In May, Dr. Richard Lundquist, a California philanthropist, donated a 1972 Enzo Ferrari, valued at more than $600,000, to the school’s Auto Restoration Program.

Later in May, Lundquist and his wife Melanie donated $25 million to the college for the Building Community Campaign.

And last month, McPherson College announced three major building projects.