Gerald Gunderson, a 1965 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, has been described by those who knew him as living modestly and giving generously to others. Gunderson passed away in 2021, but his generosity will continue to impact UW-Platteville students for generations to come, thanks to a more than $1 million estate gift – one of the largest estate gifts in the UW-Platteville Foundation’s history.
With a lifelong passion for nature and science, Gunderson earned a general science degree from UW-Platteville and later received his master’s degree in biology from Northern Michigan University. He taught middle school science for 30 years and had an interest in collecting fossils, which began in his early teens and continued well past retirement. His interest took him on fossil digs across the country. He was instrumental in major fossil discoveries, wrote or contributed to a dozen papers and even had three fossils named after him.
Prior to this estate gift, Gunderson had been generously supporting UW-Platteville for decades, with the establishment of nine scholarships. He once stated that his motivation to help students stemmed from his own time as a student at UW-Platteville, when one of his peers told him he had to drop out of school due to finances. Gunderson made a goal to one day help students who need financial support.
“We are so thankful for this incredible gift from Gerald Gunderson, which is a true testament to his love for this university and his desire to help students succeed,” said Interim Chancellor Dr. Tammy Evetovich. “Mr. Gunderson clearly had a passion for education and lifelong learning and his legacy gift will give so many more students the opportunity to develop the same.”
It was also important to Gunderson to support the needs of a variety of students. The scholarships he created were set up for students studying in all three colleges, ranging from majors in natural sciences to mathematics to visual arts and more. Other scholarships are specific for students of Southwest Wisconsin, students from the bordering states and students from small high schools of less than 150 in a graduating class.
Rebecca Bell, a freshman biology major from Dubuque, Iowa, is a recipient of the 2022 Gerald O. Gunderson Natural Science Scholarship.
“This scholarship means a lot to me,” said Bell, who hopes to someday work with wildlife or in a zoo. “Struggling financially in college was one of my biggest fears and even the smallest amount would be a huge help to me. Not only did this scholarship mean that I have people looking out for and supporting me, but it also means to me that through college, no matter how hard it gets, I need to keep pushing through. Having Mr. Gunderson give a donation to my academics just makes me want to succeed even more.”
Gunderson’s estate gift will support his nine existing scholarships.
“Jerry Gunderson was an avid educator and, truly, a lifelong learner,” said Dr. Wayne Weber, interim provost and vice chancellor of Academic Affairs. “He was passionate about science and passionate about education. This impactful gift reflects that passion, providing a legacy that will have an incredible impact on students at UW-Platteville for generations to come.”