TV Giant Pays It Forward With Endowed Scholarships

Don Bellisario smiling

Don Bellisario

Don Bellisario knows how to tell a good story. As the creator of hit series like "Magnum, P.I." and "JAG," Don has been winning over television audiences for thirty years. But none of the on-air drama he's crafted can beat Don's real-life tale. Now the producer/writer/director is helping Penn State students to create their own happy endings by establishing a $1 million endowment for trustee scholarships in the College of Communications.

"Growing up in a hardscrabble western Pennsylvania coal mining town, I know firsthand the sacrifices that are made to give a son or daughter a university education," says Don, who was born in Cokesburg. "To make their burden a little lighter is what I can give back to the hard-working people of Pennsylvania."

Establishing the Bellisario Trustee Scholarships is also a way for the 1961 journalism graduate to pay back the University for help he received as a student. When Don enrolled at Penn State, he was fresh out of the Marine Corps, a young father with two children and not much money. Don and his wife struggled to make ends meet. Penn State offered the family a $600 loan.

"I want you to know I stiffed them, never paid them back," Don said to an audience at a College of Communications donor dinner in 2007. "I hope this helps even things out."

The largest single endowed scholarship gift in the college's history more than balances the books. Don has also secured additional scholarship funds from Penn State through the Trustee Matching Scholarship Program. Established by the board of trustees in 2002, the program matches the average annual income from the scholarship endowment (about five percent) with support from the University budget, doubling the amount of money available to help students. With the match, a $1 million endowment will generate about $100,000 a year for scholarships - in perpetuity.

"This gift is transformational for the college and for the scores of Bellisario Trustee Scholars who each year will walk the halls of Carnegie Building," says Dean Doug Anderson. "Without doubt, Don's magnificent gift will lift the spirits of its recipients, make life more manageable for them, and help propel them to a lifetime of successes."

Don has long been a supporter of the College of Communications, and he has returned to campus often to share his experience and insights. "My visits to Penn State over the past few years have brought me into contact with many of the bright young students in the College of Communications," Don says. "I could spend hours answering their questions. How can I resist giving a small assist to those who are so eager to learn?"

To learn more about how you can support Penn State students with a long-term gift, please contact Michael J. Degenhart, Assistant Vice President, or any of the expert gift planning officers in the Office of Gift Planning at Penn State at 888-800-9170 (toll free) or

A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to The Pennsylvania State University a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

"I give to The Pennsylvania State University, a nonprofit corporation currently located at c/o Office of Gift Planning, 212 The 103 Building, University Park, PA 16802, or its successor thereto, ______________* [written amount or percentage of the estate or description of property] for its unrestricted use and purpose."

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to Penn State or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.

Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.

Securities, real estate or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.

Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property or undeveloped land.

A charitable remainder trust provides you or other named individuals income each year for life or a period not exceeding 20 years from assets you give to the trust you create.

You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the potential tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to Penn State as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to Penn State as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and Penn State where you agree to make a gift to Penn State and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

Personal Estate Planning Kit Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the materials for planning your estate.

eBrochure Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the brochure.