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How Generosity Made History at Palmer College

Exterior shots of Palmer Florida campus images

How Generosity Made History at Palmer College

There are many momentous dates in the history of Palmer College of Chiropractic: 1895, when D.D. Palmer performed the first chiropractic adjustment; 1897, when he founded the Palmer School and Cure; 1984, when the College achieved dual accreditation from the Council on Chiropractic Education and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Add to that list 2023: the year Palmer College celebrated the successful completion of Daring and Driven, the largest fundraising campaign undertaken by any chiropractic college — ever.

Exceeding its ambitious $25 million goal to reach a staggering $30.2 million, the campaign will be remembered as a testament to the generosity of alumni and friends of the College and their deeply rooted belief in Palmer, the chiropractic profession and a future of unlimited health and human potential.

And it will be remembered as the start of much more to come — a precedent set for Palmer’s efforts to continue raising the funds needed to advance the College’s mission.

Seizing the Moment 
Looking back, the success of the campaign was anything but inevitable. Barbara Melbourne, J.D., Palmer’s vice chancellor for institutional advancement, remembers the report submitted by the consultants hired to assess the campaign’s feasibility. “To put it simply, the outside experts said it wasn’t going to happen.”

Yet Palmer’s leadership knew that opportunity was calling. The College had partnered with Gallup to conduct extensive research on perceptions about chiropractic care, and the results were clear: patient demand was growing. As The Trusted Leader in Chiropractic Education®, Palmer was uniquely positioned to steward the growth of the profession by doubling down in its investments in its students.

“Chiropractic was entering an exciting time, and we had an opportunity to newly engage and energize alumni and the entire campus community,” says Palmer’s Chancellor and CEO, Dennis Marchiori, D.C., Ph.D. (Main, ’90). “But the College needed to invest in the infrastructure and the academics, the scholarships and the endowment that would carry us into that future and support that kind of growth and interest.”

Palmer was not alone in seeing its own potential to seize the moment. In July 2017, the College received its largest individual grant from a foundation, a $5 million commitment from the Bechtel Trusts. The Palmer Academic Health Center on Main Campus was renamed the Harold & Marie Bechtel Center — just one of many transformations to come, all driven by the power of philanthropy.

“We said, ‘If we don’t use this to inspire people to give, we’ve missed an opportunity,’” recalls Melbourne. “We had a vision for the future, but we couldn’t do it on our own. We needed alumni and community support.”

Six years and a total of $30.2 million later, nobody can say that Palmer and its generous supporters have let that opportunity pass them by. How did they do it, how have the campaign’s impacts been felt and how will generosity continue to raise the bar for chiropractic?

That Fighting Spirit
The success of Daring and Driven would have been impossible without a wide network of support. But the seeds had to be planted close to home. Early on, Melbourne focused on building an alumni and advancement team of skilled professionals who were ready for a challenge and unafraid of thinking beyond the status quo. The campaign would provide the perfect structure for assembling the talent needed not just to achieve the six-year goal but to serve the College far into the future.

One of the first milestones the advancement team reached was seeing Palmer’s faculty and administrators embrace the campaign’s vision and the generosity that would make it a reality. “Once they understood that our work was really about providing opportunities to our students so they could better serve future patients, they grew in their interest and curiosity about how philanthropy could move the needle and how they could help,” recalls Melbourne.

“That creates an energy,” says beloved professor Virginia Barber, D.C. (Main, `90). “Others outside of campus see that and say, ‘Wow, the people there are invested in this.’”

A member of the Founder’s Circle with her partner and fellow Palmer faculty member Tom Ring, D.C., (Main, ’75), Dr. Barber was an early champion of the Daring and Driven campaign. “My view in life is the more you’re blessed, the more you owe,” she explains. “I’ve had an extraordinarily blessed life, and Palmer has given me a lot of that. So, I want to give back and help students.”

Sometimes, Dr. Barber laughs, those students are surprised to learn that their instructors and mentors give to the College. “Time and again, they’ll say, ‘I didn’t know you gave! You must really believe in us.’ And I respond, ‘I have one life that I know of, and I’ve chosen to do this with each of you little weasels. If I didn’t believe in you, the joke would be on me.’”

Like Dr. Barber, Charlotte Matityahu, D.C. (West, ’93), is an alumna who supports students today and patients tomorrow through scholarships. She created the Drs. Svend and Helene Nielsen Memorial Endowed Scholarship in honor of her grandparents, who traveled from Copenhagen to Davenport to study chiropractic in the 1930s. Not only did her grandparents help pave the way for the profession in Europe, but they also trod the footsteps her father and eventually Dr. Matityahu herself would follow.

“I wanted to pay homage to their story and that fighting spirit of chiropractic — and, at the end of the day, help more people become chiropractors,” she says. Dr. Matityahu’s scholarship isn’t awarded on the basis of grades, and she has kept herself out of the selection process. “My giving is not based on control. It’s simply to honor these people who came before me, and I believe in this institution to do the rest.”

If scholarships like these are one way Palmer students have seen the evidence and felt the impact of philanthropy on their chiropractic education, the transformations of on-campus infrastructure are certainly another. Alumni who have come back for homecoming or made other visits to Main Campus have seen it, too.

“These tangible changes are just beyond comprehension — they are brilliant improvements and hugely exciting as we plan for the future of our profession,” says Bill Spontak, D.C. (Main, ’90), who participated in early brainstorming sessions for Daring and Driven and contributed to the campaign. “People who haven’t been there in just a few years say, ‘Holy cow, we’re moving.’ I’ve been thrilled to watch the campaign grow and succeed.”

As the profession advances and the College continues its visionary path forward, Dr. Spontak shares Dr. Matityahu’s desire to recognize the contributions of the chiropractors who lay the foundation for Palmer students today. “We have an obligation to respect and be grateful for where the profession came from,” he explains. “We’re standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, and we have to have a professional sense of community and legacy.”

The campaign itself has provided ample opportunities to shine a spotlight on Palmer graduates who have shaped the profession during their careers and who are continuing to do so through leadership giving. From Bruce and Bethel Hagen, D.C.s (Main, ’53), to Paul Hetrick, D.C. (Main, ’78), Paul and Donna VanDuyne, D.C.s (Main, ’78), Donna Craft (Main, ’86) and so many others, the examples and stories of accomplished and generous alumni have become the subject of reflection and inspiration for students every day.

“Students at major universities across the country are used to attending campuses steeped in philanthropy,” says Melbourne, who previously worked at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Pennsylvania State University. “Our students are now seeing it all around them, and they’re the future. They’re the ones who are going to carry us into the next 125 years.”

The Bar is Set
When Daring and Driven was publicly announced at the 2022 Homecoming celebration, the College decided to raise the goal to $25 million based on the campaign’s incredible momentum to date. And yet some of the most significant gifts in Palmer’s history were yet to come.

In early spring 2023, William Kiernan, D.C. (Main, ’51), made the largest ever gift from a living alumnus. Added to Dr. Kiernan and his wife’s existing endowment and scholarship funds, the $3.3 million gift brings the couple’s giving to the College to $4.3 million total, investments that will benefit generations of students to come.

“I’ve spent 75 years in chiropractic. I see the evolution and growth of chiropractic, and we have to keep that going,” says Dr. Kiernan. “The only way to do this is through good educational programs and the development of the student.”

Even more recently, with the $25 million goal squarely in sight, another gift changed the game again. In August, a Florida couple contributed $4 million to Palmer — the single largest gift the College has ever received from an individual or couple.

“As friends and admirers of Palmer College and its Florida campus, our gift is an investment in an organization — truly an economic engine — that is elevating the well-being of the citizens of Volusia County and beyond,” say the donors, who are not alumni and wish to remain anonymous. “This gift will support the people who do the meaningful and important work of educating future chiropractors — the graduates who eventually go out into their communities and transform lives through their care.”

Just as Daring and Driven was coming to a close, the gift shattered the campaign’s goal and inspired Melbourne to stretch toward $30 million in donations.

“Humility and gratitude only begin to express the College’s appreciation for these historic gifts and for every single contribution, no matter its size, that brought us to this moment,” says Dr. Marchiori. “Like Palmer College or chiropractic itself, this campaign is bigger than any one person or gift, and it’s our collective passion for this profession, our belief in Palmer students and our generosity that make an overwhelming success like this possible.”

“Passion, belief, generosity — while this campaign may be at an end, those are enduring qualities that will keep serving the best interests of the chiropractic profession, its practitioners and its patients,” says Melbourne. “Daring and Driven has proven not just what was possible over the last six years but what will be possible in the years to come with the continued support of our communities.”

As a teacher, Dr. Barber sets the bar for her students to help them exceed their expectations of themselves. “I think this campaign has set the bar for Palmer College,” she says. “Just look at what we were able to do!”

“This is the best it’s ever been,” adds Dr. Spontak. “Now we need to keep it going. There is much more work to be done.”

Celebrating Daring and Driven
Take a look at all we accomplished through Daring & Driven: the Campaign for Palmer College. 

  • $30.2M total raised
  • 2,200 total donors to the campaign
  • 8 buildings built or renovated
  • 317,405 square feet added or renovated
  • 25 classrooms added
  • $1,590,867 total investment in new technology
  • $5.3M scholarship dollars raised
  • $7.2M endowed dollars raised
  • $19.2M capital dollars raised
  • 5,100 students impacted since the campaign’s start
  • 400+ faculty members impacted since the campaign’s start
  • 8 donors who gave $1M or more