Sue H. and Donald R. Whitaker both earned their PhD degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and went on to distinguished careers as college professors. In gratitude they established a scholarship in the School of Education that will be further funded with a gift in their estate plan.
“Our education at UW-Madison provided us with outstanding academic backgrounds that enabled us to enjoy productive and successful careers,” they said. “We both felt we received an excellent education and wanted to help provide that same opportunity for future students.”
They have endowed the Donald R. and Sue H. Whitaker Great People Scholarship to recognize outstanding students in the School of Education.
The Whitakers grew up in Kentucky and earned their undergraduate degrees there, Sue at the University of Kentucky and Don at Eastern Kentucky University. They met at a University of Kentucky basketball game and have been married for 49 years. Don earned his master’s degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and then received a National Science Foundation Fellowship for advanced graduate study in mathematics at UW. Sue decided to begin graduate work at UW in continuing and vocational education. After one year of study they decided to stay at UW—and with graduate assistantships completed their PhDs in the summer of 1976.
“We both felt we received an excellent education and wanted to help provide that same opportunity for future students.”
Sue and Don Whitaker
“We appreciated the outstanding faculty who taught and mentored us,” they said. Don in particular mentioned the late Dr. John Harvey, professor of mathematics and curriculum and instruction; Sue mentioned the late Dr. Beatrice Petrich, professor of continuing and vocational education. “Both were outstanding mentors who eventually became close personal friends,” they said.
Other highlights of their time on campus included “serving as house parents for Alpha Chi Omega Sorority, the beauty of the campus, and of course football games!” Sue received the Outstanding Alumna Award from the College of Human Ecology.
The Whitakers went on to teach for 34 years at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, with both serving as department chairs: Don in mathematics and Sue in family and consumer sciences. They are now retired and continue to live in Indiana but make frequent visits to the UW campus.
“The campus remains as beautiful and serene as ever—in all seasons!” they said. “We have both enjoyed seeing the changes in the physical facilities in both the School of Education and School of Human Ecology as well as all the other changes throughout the entire campus. And we have enjoyed the opportunity to come back to campus to meet our scholarship recipients at the School of Education’s Annual Awards Banquet.”
Their scholarship is part of the Great People Initiative at the University that began in 2008 with a $20 million match commitment from the UW Foundation’s board. The Whitakers said that the matching dollars “helped make our decision an easy one.” The estate plan gift allows them to further fund the scholarship that will exist in perpetuity.
They encouraged other alumni to support the university, concluding: “The University of Wisconsin-Madison continues to be a world-class educational institution in teaching, research, and service to the state, nation, and beyond.”