With the 42nd annual "A Day for Southern," people in Statesboro and Bulloch County, and on the campus itself, set a new record of giving to Georgia Southern University: $2,335,990.
Those were the digits key campaigners were holding when they turned around at the 5:30 p.m. reveal. All day Tuesday, volunteers had called on repeat and expected donors, sometimes following up on earlier pledges.
"This is kind of the culmination of all that, where we go out into the community and shore up some of those commitments, make some new commitments," said Anthony Waters, the community campaign chairman. "This is kind of where it comes to fruition of a long year's work."
Waters, who with his father owns L.A. Waters Furniture, noted that his grandfather, company founder Loy Anthony Waters Sr., had been the first member of their family to attend what eventually became the university. That was in the 1920s, when it was Georgia Normal School.
"We've tried to be good stewards for Georgia Southern for many years and do all we can to contribute what we can," Waters said. "It's something that we feel like makes a big difference in our community. The community and Georgia Southern working together is why Statesboro is what it is."
The Georgia Southern University Foundation serves as a conduit for the donations. The money is used for needs and programs that are not covered by state funding, said Dr. Barbara Christmas Golden, who chairs the foundation.
"A good bit of it will go toward scholarships," Golden said. "It could go toward research efforts or anything that we want to enhance here at the university that we can't use state funds for or that we don't get enough state funds."
The foundation helps support fine arts programs, Golden said. It also helps fund outreach centers, including the GSU Museum, the Garden of the Coastal Plain and the Center for Wildlife Education.
GSU President Dr. Jean Bartels notes that scholarship funds from the foundation also can be used to help specific students stay in school.
Bartels has been interim president since July but was previously provost and vice president for academic affairs. In the last few years, she said, university officials have been watching what happens with students who attend for one, two or three years and then suddenly do not return.
"What we discovered is that many of these students were not back because they lacked sufficient funds to pay for their tuition and their room and board, and that is oftentimes not more than $500 to $1,000. It was not a huge amount of money, but they just didn't have that last little bit," she said. "This is what makes this so important."
In the morning, Waters and Bartels, together, had called on some of the university's established local supporters in their places of business. Bartels said she was feeling some pressure, as the university's first woman president, to see the total top $2.2 million, last year's record.
"This is just a wonderful demonstration of the partnership between the community and Georgia Southern and how much respect there is both from us for the community and the community for us," she said after the reveal. "I couldn't ask for a nicer way to spend the day."
Last year's total was $2,221,424, up from a little over $2.1 million in 2013, the first year the campaign topped $2 million. The total from the first Day for Southern, in 1974, was $67,000.
A Day for Southern also includes a fundraising effort among GSU faculty and staff. Dr. Lissa Leege served as the faculty co-chair. Robert Meguiar was the staff co-chair. About 200 volunteers worked in the campus and community drives.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.