$11 Million Gift Provides Scholarships for UM Students

A 1953 UM alumnus recently committed $11 million of his estate for academic scholarships at UM.


Categories: Alumni , Campus , Academic

A 1953 UM alumnus recently committed $11 million of his estate for academic scholarships at UM, the largest pledge for scholarships in the history of the University. President Royce Engstrom announced the gift in March at a reception for alumni in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Tom Cotter, of Palo Alto, Calif., is retired from a successful career in the investment field. The gift is a big show of support for UM’s Investing in Student Success Initiative, launched by Engstrom this past summer.

“This is an incredible step toward providing resources for Montana high school students who wish to pursue a degree at UM,” Engstrom says. “It is such a generous gift, and one that dramatically influences UM’s ability to recruit and support Montana high school students. Tom Cotter and his family will forever change the lives of many people through this generosity and foresight.”

Cotter, who grew up on a ranch near Townsend, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1953 and a master’s in 1955, both in sociology. He then served as a special agent in the Army Counterintelligence Corps for two years, before moving to Seattle, where he worked for Boeing Co. for nine years in human resources.

Cotter decided to try his hand at financial planning on the weekends. He liked the work and decided to make a career of it, joining Merrill Lynch in 1965. Eventually he joined the investment firm that would become Franklin Templeton, retiring after twenty years.

After trailblazing new markets in the investment industry, his family settled in Palo Alto, Calif., where Tom and his wife, Neva, still reside today. Their daughter, Mary Ann, followed in her father’s footsteps by attending UM. Mary Ann graduated in 1995 and is a member of the UM Foundation President’s Club.

At age eighty-four, Tom enjoys alpine skiing and volunteer work. He also stays involved with the Cotter Charitable Foundation, through which the family makes grants to at least fifty different entities annually.

“I could have never made it without my education, and I want to see if I can help upgrade the situations of students who want the chance to learn,” he says. “I have such a love for Montana and the University, and have always felt that students could be very good recipients of my money.”

UM received two other generous gifts this past semester.

In early March, Earle Layser ’65 committed $1.5 million of his estate to the College of Forestry and Conservation. The gift from Layser and his late wife, Pattie, of Alta, Wyo., will endow a professorship in conservation biology and policy.

The position will be called the Earle and Pattie Layser Endowed Distinguished Professorship in Conservation Biology and Policy. It will increase the number of existing or planned endowed faculty positions in the college to four.

Layser, who spent his childhood in rural Pennsylvania, graduated from the School of Forestry in 1965. Pattie grew up in Memphis, Tenn. Together, the couple traveled the world, but their home always was the Northern Rockies.

“We were exceptionally fortunate to visit and write about some of Earth’s beautiful, wild, and biologically unique places,” Layser says. “But in the process, we witnessed firsthand humankind’s sobering worldwide assault on natural places and wildlife. Perhaps, within that same landscape, we can also be leaders in demonstrating to the world how, in the future, to live in ecological and sustainable harmony with our wildlands and wildlife. It is toward that goal that Pattie and I are making this gift.”

In February, UM’s School of Law announced the largest outright gift in its history from Alexander “Zander” Blewett III and his wife, Andy, of Great Falls.

The $800,000 gift will create the Blewett Scholars Fund, providing three scholarships to incoming students who first have earned bachelor’s degrees from Montana State University in Bozeman. Each scholarship will pay for half of the recipients’ School of Law tuition and be renewable for the duration of the three-year program.

“My father graduated from the University and had a storied career as a trial lawyer,” Blewett says. “Now my sons have also graduated from UM and follow in the family tradition. We’ve all been so fortunate to acquire these skills at the University of Montana School of Law. The quality of the program, starting with the faculty, truly prepares its students in trial tactics and appellate arguments—our law school experiences have been instrumental to the successful careers we’ve been able to develop.

“I hope these scholarships will provide more incentive for the next generation of MSU students to obtain the quality of education that the School of Law provides.”

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