Rick Simonson was known as a go-getter from his earliest years. Driven by the twin passions of politics and education, he developed a reputation as someone willing to tackle the tough jobs and see them through to ultimate success. Rick passed away in July 2012, but Albion students still benefit from his leadership and his many contributions to the College, including most recently an endowed scholarship fund.
“Rick loved Albion College,” says his longtime friend James “Mick” Middaugh. “Remembering how he had been helped by scholarships, he included in his estate planning a scholarship for individuals seeking to attend the College. Rick’s passing is a tremendous loss. However, his legacy of saving, caring, sharing, and giving back will enrich students’ lives in perpetuity! Rick’s commitment to advancing education will live forever through his scholarship funds.”
Rick’s Albion classmates may remember him best as president of the Student Senate during his senior year and as one of the founders of the College’s Project 250 Awards, created in summer 1971 to honor newly inaugurated President Bernard Lomas. With Rick spurring them on, the five-member steering committee set a goal of raising $250,000 to establish an endowment for the annual awards which were to recognize student achievement in and out of the classroom and particularly to honor outstanding leadership and service to the campus community.
“I remember talking with Rick about his high school experience and how he was one of the few from his graduating class who even considered attending college,” says Lyn Ward Healy, ’72, a co-founder of the Project 250 Awards. “I think this impacted his entire view of education during his lifetime.”
After a year of fundraising that entailed traveling 12,000 miles to build support from alumni, foundations, and corporations, the students exceeded their goal by spring 1972, bringing in a total of $276,824. Since then, the Project 250 endowment total has grown to $1.4 million, and $1.5 million has been awarded to Albion upperclassmen.
A political science and economics major while at Albion, Rick went on to become chief of staff for two Michigan state senators and also ran President Gerald Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign in Michigan. His connections with President Ford led to his involvement in the founding of what is now the Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service at Albion. Rick also managed the successful election campaign for former College trustee Mary Coleman for a Michigan Supreme Court seat, the first female justice—and later chief justice—in Michigan history.
Rick used his political prowess—and his significant contacts in Lansing—to advance many educational causes, serving as director of state and federal affairs for the Oakland County Schools later in his career. Devoted to his hometown of Baldwin, located in impoverished Lake County, Rick personally established a college scholarship for students there and also spearheaded the creation of the Baldwin Promise that today provides all Baldwin High School graduates with a four-year college scholarship.
On retiring from public service, Rick established an endowed scholarship at Albion that will assist students majoring in economics and management who also show leadership potential, and he provided further funding for the endowment through his estate plan.
“Endowed scholarship funds are even more critical today,” notes Ann Whitmer, Albion’s director of financial aid. “Many of the Michigan families we serve are still dealing with the effects of the Great Recession. Endowed scholarships can help bring an Albion education within reach for these students.”
Dennis Cawthorne, ’62, first met Rick when Dennis was campaigning for a seat in the Michigan Legislature, and he later would sponsor Rick as a legislative page. Dennis also encouraged him to apply to Albion College. He notes that Rick’s drive and his determination to help others were evident even then.
“I always had the highest regard for Rick’s character and his initiative,” Dennis says. “He took special pride in doing something to help uplift and lead his community. He had a true spirit of public service, and that was demonstrated not only in his career but in his support for educating young people.”