Spider family

May 23, 2021


Future first-generation students will benefit thanks to a gift that honors Richmond’s retiring first couple.
By Matthew Dewald

Not long after Bob and Ellen Walsh Peck, W’91, heard the news that Ronald Crutcher had announced his retirement as Richmond’s president, they picked up the phone. They wanted to tell a friend of theirs, Terry Heilman Sylvester, B’76, about an idea they had. Why Sylvester? “No one has a warmer heart, and no one has more love of the university,” Bob said.

And therefore, no one was a better partner for helping them decide how to do what they had in mind. They wanted to honor Crutcher and his wife, Betty Neal Crutcher, the university’s retiring first couple.

Sylvester was not the least bit surprised that the Pecks were mulling this idea. She had previously helped them develop an endowed scholarship and provide support for URISE, a pre-first year program that aims to increase the number of students from groups traditionally underrepresented in science and math disciplines. She also knew they see the promise of the university through the eyes of their son Reilly, ’22.

“The Pecks have such humility and such sincere hearts for giving back,” said Sylvester, UR’s director of parent philanthropy. “They’ve invested because they see Richmond’s potential.”

Together, they talked with the Crutchers and created the Ronald A. and Betty N. Crutcher Honorary Scholarship, an endowed scholarship that provides support to first-generation students with financial need. Richmond currently enrolls approximately 430 traditional undergraduates who are the first in their families to attend college, a number that has risen in recent years because of policies designed to increase access and affordability to talented students of all backgrounds.

On average nationally, first-generation students come from families with less than half of the median parental income as students whose parents attended college, according to NASPA, a national association of student affairs administrators. Significant support such as the Crutcher Honorary Scholarship helps alleviate this barrier.

Once on campus, UR’s first-generation students have a built-in network of support through Common Ground. The office has forged partnerships with departments across campus to connect first-gen students with mentoring, advising, and other services. It also maintains a list of current faculty and staff who share the experience of having been a first-generation undergraduate. Among the names on that list: Ronald A. Crutcher, president.

Bob Peck would also be on the list if he were a UR faculty or staff member, one reason that the couple makes first-generation students a philanthropic priority. They say that increased support for first-generation students is just one part of the Crutchers’ impressive legacy at Richmond.

“They’ve given so much to the university, including their longtime leadership in raising awareness of racial and social inequities and the need for concerted efforts to right past wrongs,” Bob said. “We hope this opens up the way for others who are similarly inclined and want to honor them. There’s nothing special about us in this. What’s special in this is Ron and Betty.”