Friday, September 28, 2001

Frugal donor leaves WKU $3.5M

Woman, 95, named only after death

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Mary Hutto shunned personal luxuries but made shrewd stock investments, according to those who knew her.

        Her picks were so shrewd that she was able to amass $3.5 million, which she donated to Western Kentucky University for scholarships. Ms. Hutto died in April at age 95.

        It's the second-largest gift in the university's history, and the second-largest gift for scholarships to any Kentucky public university.

        Ms. Hutto was so frugal that she slept in the hallway of the family boarding house so each room had tenants, usually Western students.

        “She saved money because she never thought she'd have enough to live on,” said Ron Beck, WKU's former director of planned giving. “But the truth of the matter is she was a multimillionaire. It's a phenomenon of some of these people who grow up in the Depression. Some of these older folks don't realize the true value of their savings.”

        University officials announced Ms. Hutto's gift in October, but it was only Wednesday that they revealed her identity. Mr. Beck said Ms. Hutto, who had contributed $250,000 for scholarships before she died, insisted on remaining anonymous while she was alive.

        “It really frustrated me because I wanted to show our appreciation to her other than just personally,” said Mr. Beck, who retired in 1998.

        Ms. Hutto, a Bowling Green native, graduated from WKU in 1927 with a teaching degree. She left her hometown for Stuart, Fla., where she began teaching English.

        “It was a pioneer move because she was a single woman,” said Marian McGrath, the St. Petersburg, Fla., attorney who handled Ms. Hutto's estate.

        In Stuart, Ms. Hutto met her husband, H.W. Hutto, a Maytag appliance salesman. He was killed in an auto crash in 1953, and she never remarried. They had no children.

        According to WKU officials, Ms. Hutto returned to Bowling Green sometime after her father died in 1957 and before her mother died in 1963. Back in her hometown, she ran the family's boarding house — known as the Peal House — near the university campus. It was there that she set up a makeshift bedroom in the hallway.

        “She lived in a little cubicle in the hallway with a little sheet around her so she wouldn't take up one of the bedrooms,” Mr. Beck said.

        In the late 1980s, Ms. Hutto returned to Florida, this time across the state in the St. Petersburg area.

        “Even though she lived all those years in Florida, her heart was really in Kentucky,” Ms. McGrath said. “It's what she talked about all the time.”

        Mr. Beck said he met Ms. Hutto about eight years ago after Ms. McGrath called and said Ms. Hutto wanted to donate money to the university. Mr. Beck flew to Florida to meet her.

        He recalled that she was small and thin and had become legally blind. She listened to books on tape and the radio, he said. “Her mind was active until close to the end,” he said.

        After that meeting, Ms. Hutto began making contributions for scholarships that eventually totaled $250,000 before she died.

        Sarah Sallee, 21, a senior agriculture major from White Mills, Ky., is one of 15 students who received full-tuition scholarships from those donations. She said she had never known the name of the donor.

        “I wasn't sure what to think,” Ms. Sallee said of the time university officials notified her in the middle of her sophomore year that her tuition would be paid by an anonymous donor. “I didn't know who it was from or where it was from.”

        WKU President Gary Ransdell said Ms. Hutto's $3.5 million gift will establish an endowment allowing about 70 students to receive $2,500 annual scholarships. He said Ms. Hutto intended the aid to go to Kentucky residents who show strong academic and leadership skills but who would not qualify for WKU's top scholarships.

        “This will allow us to recruit the cadre of students who are class leaders,” Mr. Ransdell said.


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