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Students First! News and Updates

July 2013 Keith Pontius ’55 hopes his gift for the Academic Center will help to transform lives in the same way Manchester transformed his.

Keith Pontius ’55 hopes his gift for the Academic Center will help to transform lives in the same way Manchester transformed his.

In this issue:



Alum says thank you with the ‘Pontius Floor’

Manchester taught Keith Pontius ’55 a lot about how to succeed in business and life. Now a gift for the first floor of the Academic Center is one way Keith and his wife, Carol, are saying thank you to his alma mater. “Manchester has been good to me,” says Pontius. “We want to do something to support the Students First! campaign.”

More than $87.5 million has been raised to date for capital improvements, faculty development and student learning programs, scholarships, the endowment and more. Pontius helped celebrate that progress when he returned in May to accept an Alumni Honor Award from the University.

Pontius ventured to Manchester from a small Ohio farm in the early 1950s. As a student, he excelled at journalism and edited the campus newspaper. But he found his professional calling in business and accounting, and claimed honors as Manchester’s top business student his senior year.

Pontius found his wife at Manchester, too. He and Joan Clark ’55x married the summer before his junior year and set up housekeeping in a trailer near the covered bridge. The young couple paid the princely sum of $18 a month rent.

In the late 1950s, opportunity called the couple back to Ohio. Pontius joined his father-in-law in the packaging business and rose through the ranks of leadership at J.G. Clark Co. He held other packaging industry executive positions before starting his own company, KP Packaging in Tennessee.

Pontius became a civic leader too – in Lions International since 1956 – and was active in the Church of the Brethren for years. In addition to Manchester’s Alumni Board, he served on the Board of Trustees for 19 years.

In 2008, a rare cancer claimed Joan. Her family’s deep roots at Manchester are reflected in the building that bears their name – Clark Computer Center. Now, across the campus mall, the first floor of the Academic Center bears the Pontius name.

The space reflects Keith Pontius’ gratitude to his alma mater, and his hope that it will transform lives for generations to come.

Manchester continues to raise funds for the Academic Center. If you’re interested in making a gift, naming a space, or learning more about Students First!, visit




Zooks’ gift a nod to the power of personal attention

Andrew Barrand

Manchester graduate El Zook ’59 is a trailblazer in plastic surgery education. But he knows he wouldn’t have gotten there without the guidance of mentors who helped him along the way. Now a generous endowment gift from Dr. Zook and his wife Sharon ’61 will help young people navigate their journeys to health care professions, just as others once helped him.

The Dr. Elvin and Sharon Zook Endowed Fund for Health Profession Outreach will help talented high school and MU students interested in becoming physicians, dentists, optometrists and pharmacists. The University will use the Zooks’ gift for an annual event, alternating between the North Manchester and Fort Wayne campuses. Participating students can talk with admissions counselors, tour classrooms and laboratories, and get advice from science faculty and MU alumni who work in medical professions.

Founder of the plastic surgery division at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Zook has served on SIU’s medical school admission selection committee for 25 years. He sees candidates who haven’t had effective mentoring or the right academic preparation. He wants MU’s outreach program to answer the “What should I do now?” questions. Some young people, he says, just need encouragement because “they think there’s no way they can make it.”

Zook made it with the good advice of a surgeon who mentored him as a child. The hometown doctor, Zook recalls, was “someone I could go to when I had questions.” At Manchester, Chemistry Professor Dr. Carl Holl recognized Zook’s potential, too, and helped the young science student make good choices. As a result, Dr. Zook attended Indiana University Medical School and went on to a legendary career at SIU where today he is a professor emeritus and an endowed chair bears his name.

A steadfast MU supporter and trustee, Dr. Zook knows what a difference personal attention from his alma mater made. “If it wasn’t for Manchester,” he says, “I wouldn’t be where I am.”

Join El ’59 and Sharon ’61 Zook in supporting Students First! at




Renee Neher holds a child she met during a church-sponsored work camp in the Dominican Republic.

Renee Neher ’16 was looking for a top-flight accounting program and financial aid that would help her minimize debt. The numbers added up for Manchester.

Of course, the balance sheet included Renee’s deep family roots in Manchester and the Church of the Brethren, too. “There was already a community here that I knew” that includes family and family friends, said the Lombard, Ill., native.

Though Renee’s parents met at McPherson College, many of her aunts and uncles are Manchester alums. Grandfather Leon Neher taught sociology here in the 1960s and, as a result, Renee’s dad spent much of his childhood in North Manchester. Both sides of Renee’s family are Church of the Brethren.

Renee looked at several schools that were strong in accounting. In the end, Manchester’s strong financial aid package tipped the scale because “I could not walk out of college with that much debt and be OK with myself,” explains Renee. Manchester, she says, is “where I was supposed to be. I knew it was the right choice as soon as I made it.”

The aspiring accountant works out regularly at the Brown Fitness Center, enjoys yoga to relieve stress, and plays viola in the Manchester Symphony Orchestra. This fall, she’ll study in Cheltenham, England, through BCA Study Abroad.

Renee’s also found a passion for short mission trips – often called work camps – that have led her to help the less fortunate in the Dominican Republic, Appalachia and on skid row in Los Angeles.

“I’m very privileged to have what I have,” says Renee, whose family attends York Center Church of the Brethren in Lombard. Her parents taught her to be grateful. “There are people out there who don’t have anything,” says Renee. “I realize that I’m very lucky.”

Read more stories about MU students like Renee >




Recent grad found confidence, conviction at MU

Elizabeth HendrixThe irony of what Manchester has done for her isn’t lost on 2013 graduate Tracie Doi. She’s no longer comfortable with being comfortable.

The social work major from Granger, Ind., arrived at Manchester a reluctant college student and undecided about a major. Then she took College Writing. English Professor Beate Gilliar recognized Tracie’s gifts, and encouraged her writing. She also stoked Tracie’s curiosity about the world. First, Tracie dipped her toes in a January course in England and France. Then she dove headfirst into a semester in India through BCA Study Abroad.

India changed everything, says Tracie. “I didn’t want to come back.”

In India, Tracie studied at a college three days a week and worked at an NGO (non-governmental organization) two days a week. “Life is so different” in India, and the people, says Tracie, are kind and generous. “Living in a culture such as India’s has really helped me keep my values in check.”

On campus, Tracie was involved with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and helped with multicultural student orientation. “I loved telling new students how special this place is to me,” she says. A term as president of Circle K gave Tracie self-esteem and confidence. “Before I didn’t think I could do it. Now I have faith in my abilities.”

Tracie’s ultimate goals are to “help people help themselves,” influence policies and target problems at their root causes. She spent spring semester in Chicago as an intern for the American Friends Service Committee. Now the May graduate is looking to join Brethren Volunteer Service for a couple of years before deciding about graduate school. And she might go abroad again. It scares her, but in Tracie’s new world, that’s good. “I take a leap,” she says. “That makes me happy.”

Make a gift online to Students First! The Campaign for Manchester >