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 email@example.com.