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The Case of the Covert Cash
The Case of the Covert Cash

A secret donor finds a new way to give money to students

By Laura Daily

(Ferris portrait) Wikimedia Commons; (Frame) Stockbyte/Thinkstock

Alumni giving isn't typically shrouded in intrigue. Yet since September 2015, an anonymous alumnus has twice slipped onto the Ferris State University campus to leave five envelopes in random places addressed to "A Ferris Student." Each envelope contains a letter and $50. The note instructs recipients to purchase food, books, or other necessities and is signed Woody Jr., a tribute to the Michigan university's founder, Woodbridge "Woody" Ferris.

"This unique way of giving has students buzzing," says Brandi Behrenwald, director of alumni relations. In February 2016, the mystery donor—even university administrators don't know the identity—emailed the campus newspaper to explain the reasoning behind this cloak-and-donate operation. Currents did some sleuthing and caught up with the elusive Woody Jr. for an online chat. Here's what he (or she) had to say.

Why give money directly to students rather than writing a check to the institution?

I do both and will continue to support FSU. But there is something thrilling about coming back to campus, leaving these letters, and leaving it up to fate. During my time at Ferris, I heard unbelievable stories about what people had overcome to be there. Everyone has hurdles to jump, and this is my way of reminding students that they are not alone.

One student, Ellie Ohm, found an envelope and posted her story on Facebook with the hashtag #MakingWoodyProud. Have you heard from others?

Without Ellie I might not have continued. She was a reminder of why I wanted to do this. I have not heard from other students. I confess on that first visit I left the letters in some … umm, spots where they might not have made it into students' hands. (It was windy that day). The second visit, I was more deliberate and dropped them on a library table where someone was studying or on the floor of the University Center. That drop was funny. A nice girl yelled that I had dropped my mail. I told her it was hers and kept walking. The school newspaper may work with me to give the students a heads-up about when I'm going to drop envelopes next, which I think will help.

Why is it important for alumni to give back?

Simple. As I type this, a kid is having the time of his or her life in Big Rapids, Michigan, learning things that will help change our world. At one point that kid was me, and fellow Bulldogs that went before me decided to give back.

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About the Author Laura Daily

Laura Daily is a journalist based in Denver, Colorado. She co-founded the personal finance website Living on the Cheap and publishes the site Mile High on the Cheap.




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