November 6, 2015
How many times have you had this happen? You find a couple pennies, or nickels or quarters on the ground. They wind up at the bottom of your washing machine, or stuck in the seat of your car, or at the back of a drawer. Wherever they are, maybe they come in useful now and again, but they’re probably not serving a greater good. That’s okay. It’s just spare change, after all, right?
Not at UI, though. If you haven’t heard of the “Found Money Fund,”
it’s one of the quirky, creative traditions that are such a part of our university. The idea started
with Terry Armstrong, a longtime Vandal administrator and professor, and staff member Carolyn Yenni Wilson. Both were Vandals through and through, dedicated to students and to the university. Walking by a fraternity house on campus one day in 1981, Terry found three pennies on the ground and put them in a jar. Others dropped loose change in the jar, as well. Soon, a campus tradition was born.
Needing a place to deposit all those nickels and dimes and stray bills, the Found Money Fund endowment was created. It has been added to through the years by contributions from alumni, faculty, staff and students the world over, who occasionally mail in loose change and bills — a small but appreciated gesture that complements a great spirit of donor generosity. Terry passed away last year, but the Found Money Fund is one way in which his legacy lives on. I actually first heard about the fund from a colleague with whom I worked at the University of South Dakota, and who wanted to start such a fund at that institution — proof that a good idea travels far.
Per Terry Armstrong’s wishes, the fund will mature in 2089. When it does, it will be used to enhance the university — its programs, its students, its faculty and staff — in ways that we might not imagine from our vantage point today. Now, 2089 offers a long horizon for adding to the fund and for watching interest accrue. With about $344,000 in the fund already, with steady contributions and a reasonable interest rate, we estimate that the fund will generate many millions of dollars after 73 years. That’s not such small change anymore, now is it?
Recently, we’ve relaunched the Found Money Fund. We actually have a fleet of little piggy banks that are hoping to find homes across campus. I encourage faculty, staff and students who are interested in supporting this project to learn more
, and maybe adopt a piggy bank of their own.
The Found Money Fund will mature long after many of us are gone. That’s part of the point, though. Little by little, with each nickel and each dime, we have a chance to express a belief in a better world for our students, for our children and for all those who come after us. So don’t feel silly about bending over to pick up those pennies. That spare change can and will add up to something special for the world to come.
P.S.: Speaking of traditions, I had started my own with a racquetball contest. Beat me in racquetball, and I’ll buy you lunch, I’ve been saying to undergraduates. I hadn’t had to spring for lunch since coming to UI – until this week. Cristobal Ramos Salazar, a key part of our men’s tennis team last year and an assistant with the team this year, beat me two games to none. The first game was close, the second, less so. My hat’s off to Cristobal for a great match. As a member of our Athletics staff mentioned, “Dr. Staben might consider training” if he wants to win. That’s probably a good lesson for all of us. Until then, I look forward to buying lunch for Cristobal and any other undergraduates who feel up to the challenge.