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Drake Center for Public Democracy receives $5 million donation, to be renamed

ON FRIDAY, Oct. 6 a ceremony was held in Sheslow to announce Ron and Jane Olsons’ donation to the Center for Public Democracy. PHOTO BY Carmon Baker | Breaking news manager

The Drake Center for Public Democracy will be renamed the Ron and Jane Olson Center for Public Democracy, following a $5 million donation from the couple, President Marty Martin announced Friday, Oct. 6 in Sheslow Auditorium. As part of Drake’s The Ones Campaign, a fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $225 million, this donation will join others to total $8.2 million dollars going towards the center. 

Ron Olson graduated from Drake in 1963, where he played on the football team. The current football team was in attendance at the press conference on Friday. Jane Olson had a career as a journalist and later worked in global humanitarianism. 

“Nothing’s more important to Jane and me than the next generation, and that’s what you all are, and that’s what I’m hoping this institution, Drake in its entirety, [and] the center especially, will inspire you all to go on and do great and good things for a country that needs them,” Olson said in a speech Friday. 

This donation will be used to fund a physical space on campus to house the center as well as travel opportunities. According to an email from Martin, it will also be used to fund immersive learning experiences, scholarships, research and other events. 

The Olsons have eight grandchildren. They see the deterioration of democracy as a threat to their future. 

“The country has been locked up, in my opinion, by the inability to compromise. You see such sharp differences being expressed in overly aggressive, demeaning, insulting terms by those governmental representatives…” Olson said. “It concerned us about what our grandchildren were seeing and them watching what that kind of inability to focus and discuss with civility and rationality was doing to our country.”

Director of Global Engagement and International Programs Annique Kiel worked with the Olsons prior to this donation. Although nothing official is planned, she sees opportunities to advance the Center for Public Democracy to a global scale. 

“Ron and Jane have been donors to the area of global engagement at Drake, and so we’ve been able to build a connection, a relationship around their passion for global citizenship,” Kiel said. “They have a true belief in connecting the world to Drake and really believe that we can do that through people-to-people exchange and bringing not only people to campus, but sending students out into the world. And so we use scholarship dollars that they have contributed to send students abroad.” 

Center for Public Democracy Scholar Fran Conner sees the center as an opportunity to make connections with different people, communities and organizations as well as work in areas of outreach. Conner, who is a first-year at Drake, sees this donation as an opportunity to expand. 

“It’s really exciting because it means that with the extra money we can keep spreading out,” Conner said. “So hopefully that involves more people, more events, going and doing more things, learning more and getting more involved in democracy.” 

Ultimately, Olson emphasized that this donation is his way of thanking Drake, which he sees as one of the most important decisions in his life. 

“It wouldn’t be about what Ron and Jane Olson are giving Drake,” Olson said. “[It’d] be about what Drake has given to me.”

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