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‘Mystery Man’ Showers College Professors With Trips, Other Gifts

December 25, 1989

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ An anonymous benefactor is enriching the lives of veteran Whitworth College faculty members, providing free vacations anywhere in the world, exotic food and other gifts.

″This person has been a Santa Claus many times over,″ said Ed Olson, a geology professor who has been given two weeks in New Zealand with the use of a motor home next month.

For the past year and a half, 17 faculty members who have been at the small, private liberal arts college at least 20 years have benefited from the largesse of a man they know only as ″M.M.″ for mystery man.

Professors typically are contacted by Laurel Livingston of the Bremerton AAA Travel Agency, who offers them and their spouses two-week vacations, including travel, lodging and sometimes $1,000 to cover miscellaneous expenses.

After the trips, they get presents like Thanksgiving hams, imported coffee, exotic foods from distant cities, cameras, binoculars, calendars and art, many accompanied by notes signed only ″M.M.″

One professor got a coffee grinder and, a few months later, a second coffee grinder with a note explaining the first model was unreliable.

The travel agent won’t say who the donor is, but faculty members believe he graduated from Whitworth sometime in the 1960s, went into business in the Puget Sound area and lives in Seattle.

″We honestly can’t identify who it is,″ said Howard Gage, a math professor who took a gift trip to England with his wife last summer. ″That’s part of the fun.″

″This is too good to be real,″ said art professor Spike Grosvenor, who got a trip to England last summer. ″It’s the sort of thing that only happens on Christmas TV specials or in the Reader’s Digest.″

Recipients since the program began in June 1988 are 14 men and three women 50 to 87 years old. Six are retired. Two other retired faculty members were were unable to accept trips for health reasons.

″I’ve never heard of any other faculty group getting this sort of reward,″ said psychology professor Patricia MacDonald, who has taught at Whitworth for 35 years and received a trip to Hawaii last summer. ″It makes us feel special.″

Chemistry professor Bob Bocksch, the first recipient of a gift vacation, initially refused a second trip.

″I think he felt our first trip didn’t cost enough, being just two weeks in Hawaii, so he suggested we take a second one,″ he said.

Bocksch wrote a note through the travel agent suggesting a donation to a chemistry equipment fund instead.

The donor sent a $5,000 check to the school, then insisted that Bocksch take a second vacation. He relented and took a 10-day Alaskan cruise.

The first three trips were given to faculty members who were told that the gifts were in gratitude to teachers who helped the mystery man when he was a student.

Later gifts went to ″people he wanted to honor for their contributions to Whitworth,″ Livingston said.

Livingston described the donor as a ″very generous, very caring person″ who travels frequently and likes people. She said he would not give his reasons for the gifts or say how much he had spent.

Grosvenor is one of three recipients who have talked with him by phone.

″Certain clues make me think he was a classmate of Howard (Gage)’s and mine,″ Grosvenor said. ″He knew that I spent one summer working as a groundskeeper at the college.

″Whoever he is, he does his homework. He knew all about my field of study and that I had never been to Europe. It’s amazing how much he knew.″

Grosvenor said the donor suggested a trip this fall to England to study stained glass, the professor’s special interest. He said the resulting trip was ″the most wonderful, perfect vacation I could have had.″

Music professor Thomas Tavener was just offered a trip but has yet to choose a destination. ″It is exciting,″ he said. ″I guess there are benefits for staying in one place for 31 years.″

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