Dr. Mario Belotti, W.M. Keck Foundation Professor of Economics, has influenced students who pass through his classroom doors since he started teaching at Santa Clara University in 1959. South Bay businessman Gerry Wilkinson was no exception. He sat in Mario's classes in the early 1960s and that experience led him to endow the Gerald and Bonita Wilkinson Endowed Professorship at the Leavey School of Business. Dr. Belotti played a key role in establishing the Chair and wrote a short memoir commemorating the Wilkinsons' gift.
The Story of Gerry and Bonita Wilkinson’s Endowed Chair
By: Dr. Mario Belotti
One afternoon, as I was sitting in the Agribusiness Institute’s office on the second floor of Kenna Hall, I received a telephone call. The person calling was Gerry Wilkinson. I did not remember that person at all. He started talking and told me that about 26 years earlier, I had given him permission to enroll in an undergraduate class in accounting which I was teaching in the evening as an extra course. In 1961, the school of business at the time was offering a certain number of courses which were available to local students, and admission to any of those courses required only a high school diploma or permission of the instructor. The courses and the grades received in this evening program were not used by the University toward a degree in business, but some states’ colleges did accept them.
During the telephone conversation, Mr. Wilkinson thanked me for allowing him to take that accounting class and said he learned enough accounting to be able to improve the management of his machine rental business and to increase his profits. The purpose of the call, he said, was to make a gift to the University. We made an appointment to meet at my office a few days later.
Before meeting him, I inquired from our alumni office, from the dean, the associate dean and the registrar’s office to obtain more information about Mr. Wilkinson. No record was found, indicating that he never went to school at Santa Clara or had taken any courses. It turned out that my course in accounting was the only course he took here or anywhere else.
As Mr. Wilkinson arrived, I greeted him but I did not recognize him. He did, however, remember me. He was happy to see me. After 15 minutes or so to reacquaint ourselves, and to learn about his rental business located in the city of Berkeley, he proposed to make a gift to the University of $600,000 in cash. It was agreed that the University would establish an endowed fund by the same amount and use half of the income from the fund to help undergraduate business students’ tuition, and the other half for MBA Agribusiness students’ scholarships. The University accepted the gift with the described conditions.
Soon after the gift, I became more acquainted with him and his family. They lived just a few blocks from the University and liked what the University was doing for Santa Clara. Soon I realized that Gerry and his wife Bonita had never travelled outside the U.S. They had a daughter and three grandchildren; all doing well.
When I realized that both Gerry and Bonita worked hard all their lives (Bonita as an interior decorator) and had decided to give part of their savings to Santa Clara University as opposed to spend that money to enrich their lives as they retired, I asked the question (to myself): does the University really deserve that money? Or does the School of Business? Or the Agribusiness Institute? I could not come up with a good answer but I felt really good about the gift. In appreciation of their action, I decided to take them to Italy with us that summer for a couple of weeks. I felt that will be good for them to see Northern Italy. They decided that the visit to Italy was a good idea. They came, Rose and I picked them up at the Milano airport and for two weeks we drove them to see Venice, to watch an Italian opera at the Arena di Verona, to visit the city of Bergamo with its museums, Duomo and Basilica (a real architectural jewel built in 1100), a trip to Bellagio on Como Lake, a day in Stresa on the Maggiore Lake, another day in Milano and its beautiful cathedral. We also visited the Bergamo’s pre-alp mountains with their beautiful valleys, the Colleoni’s castles and many other things they expressed a desire to see. They did enjoy the visit to Northern Italy and as we had time to talk in the evenings, Mr. Wilkinson was beginning to think about making another gift to Santa Clara. As we returned home, he asked me about what gift Santa Clara may find proper so that his and Bonita’s names would be remembered in the future. I suggested the best gift he could make was to establish an endowed chair in their names which would honor them to eternity or at least as long as Santa Clara University existed.
Mr. Wilkinson and his family agreed that an endowed chair at the University was the best gift they could give. One million dollars was required at the time to endow a chair. He talked to Fr. Locatelli, S.J., President of the University, about the gift. Gerry had in mind to establish a chair in accounting, but the President asked him to provide a chair to the School of Business and let him select the professor to be assigned the chair. He agreed and the Gerry and Bonita Wilkinson chair was first assigned to Professor Moberg of the Management Department. After Prof. Moberg retired, the Wilkinson Chair was given to Hoje Jo of the Finance Department, both persons very qualified and deserving of a chair.