Alumnus repays gift, supports Opportunity VCU

Internationally recognized furniture-maker Sam Forrest (B.S. '63) has collected a world of memories over the years — from crossing the Atlantic twice as a solo sailor to teaching English in Guangzhou, China. One unforgettable moment was receiving a gift from Henry H. Hibbs, then-director of Richmond Professional Institute.

"I got out of the Navy and was in school full time. I had three children," recalled Forrest, who is a lifetime member of the VCU Alumni Association. "When I was a student, I ran out of money and didn't know where to turn. I went to see President Hibbs, and he gave me $100. If he hadn't done that for me, I don't know what would have happened."

Many students today find themselves in similar financial situations. About 70 percent of full-time freshmen entering VCU apply for need-based financial aid. To help ease the burden, the VCU and MCV Alumni Associations launched Opportunity VCU in late 2009 with the goal of raising $50 million for student scholarships and fellowships across all academic units. So far, about $11.2 million has been raised.

"Our two alumni associations saw the need to increase privately funded student financial support so we can provide essential funding for deserving students and add value for all alumni degrees," said Donna Dalton (M.Ed. '00), president of the VCU Alumni Association. "We invite all alumni to join us in helping the students of today and tomorrow."

Forrest knows the importance of financial assistance and is a longtime contributor to the university.

"I'm getting older now, and I appreciate what VCU has done for me," he said.

After a successful career as a chief probation officer with the lowest recidivism rate among his peers, he left the field of social work and returned to school.

"I had not known any other life before I returned to VCU. I took jewelry, ceramics and wood classes. As soon as I touched a piece of wood, I thought, 'Well, this is it.'"

His second career as a woodworking artist took him by surprise.

"I didn't know I could use my hands, and my life has never been the same since then. I was 31 when I discovered the talent. That makes twice that VCU has helped me."

At a special alumni association members-only event last fall, Forrest was inspired to pay back the loan he received from Hibbs to support the Opportunity VCU campaign and today's students.

"I always carry a $100 bill in my pocket. So I told the story and whipped out my wallet and gave the money back," he said.

Forrest also is a member of the VCU Heritage Society, which honors donors who have made provisions for the Monroe Park Campus in their estate plans. His bequest includes funding for music orchestration studies and lectureships in woodworking and furniture design in the School of the Arts and a lectureship in religious studies.

"Sam has always been an active supporter of VCU," said Thomas C. Burke (B.S. '79, M.P.A. '95), executive director of the VCU Foundation. "His current support coupled with his previous bequest indicates just how thoughtful and thorough he is. We are very fortunate to have his support both financially and in spirit."

For more information about Opportunity VCU, visit /opportunityvcu.html or contact Thomas C. Burke (B.S. '79, M.P.A. '95), executive director of the VCU Foundation, at (804) 828-3958 or