ASHLAND -- Bob Archer does not come from wealth and he’s the first to admit that.
Even though he was the valedictorian of his class at Uhrichsville High School, Archer’s parents had little money, certainly not enough to afford to send their son to college.
Then came the Case Institute of Technology – and a scholarship to pay for it.
“If I had not received that scholarship,” said Archer, “I wouldn’t be here today.”
“Here” is in Ashland, where he lives with his wife, Jan (also a high school valedictorian). The couple moved to the city with their children in the mid-1970s in order for Bob to take a position with Brown Group/Eagle Rubber/Kent. Jan, who earned a degree in church music from Baldwin-Wallace College, eventually went on to receive a Master’s degree in health and social services planning from the University of Akron and took a position leading the United Way of Ashland County and later Leadership Ashland, among her many civic roles over the years.
Bob, who had furthered his education with an MBA from Kent State University, soon found himself becoming a fan of the Ashland University Eagles sport teams, with a special affinity for the women’s basketball program. And with Jan, there was the annual Madrigal Feaste, plus a full slate of recitals from AU notables like the late Elizabeth Pastor, who became a good friend.
In short, Jan said, “we enjoy all the amenities a college brings to a town.”
As the years passed, the Archers' involvement with Ashland University increased as their lives changed. Their three children grew to adulthood, while Jan helped to found the Ashland Center for Nonviolence and Bob joined a partnership that purchased Kent Watersports.
Time and again the Archers realized what an integral part of Ashland its university was. And so they decided to start helping to shore up both by offering financial support not only to the school, but to the community as well.
Their belief in the community and in Ashland University culminated this year when the Archers made the largest one-time gift in Ashland University history --over $10 million, and primarily for just the kinds of scholarships that helped both of them all those years ago.
“Bob and Jan Archer have seen the potentially negative consequences of Covid-19, and risen to meet that challenge and help our students through this difficult period,” said AU President Dr. Carlos Campo. “The Archers’ commitment to provide scholarship money for our students reflects their ongoing support for higher education and the Ashland community. Bob and Jan are truly a renaissance couple, with interests ranging from the symphony to athletic events, and they are helping to foster a renaissance of sorts for our campus as well.”
Nearly the entire donation from the Archers will go directly to help AU students with scholarships for all four years – including those in the Ashbrook Center program – as well as Ashland Theological Seminary students. In addition, Archer monies will help to support retention of current students, plus support athletics, marketing efforts and capital improvements.
Just last year, the couple created the Archer Challenge Grant – matching dollar-for-dollar donations up to $1 million for capital improvements and deferred maintenance issues across campus. This year, Bob said, they’ll challenge AU supporters again, this time pledging $2 for every dollar donated up to $2 million.
“It’s one thing to build a building,” said Jan, who enjoys frequent walks across campus, “it’s another thing to maintain it.” A member of the University Trustees Auxiliary, she takes advantage of the tours and information it provides and said it has “opened our eyes to things we don’t always see.”
Make no mistake, the Archers aren’t giving blindly. Bob, who is a member of the AU Board of Trustees, does plenty of homework and is impressed with the University’s executive leadership team and believes communication lines are increasingly being opened. Ashland is Rising from “Good to Great”! We have strong leadership, talented faculty, dedicated coaches, a caring support staff and an involved student body eager to participate and learn! At AU, the “Accent is( truly) on the Individual” and the AU Faculty teaches Students “How to think, not What to think”!
To be very clear, Bob said, “effort is one thing; results are another.”
As one would expect, Bob Archer looks at philanthropy with the keen eye of a successful businessman. He wants to see more students at Ashland, but he also wants to retain those already enrolled. There can’t be waste and programs have to be supported by enrollment. “We cannot,” he said, “continue to lose money on any program.”
The University will honor the Archers by naming the campus library—situated in the center of the college grounds—after the couple. A ribbon-cutting is being organized for this May to celebrate the event.
“It is fitting that two high school valedictorians who are lifelong learners and supporters of education have their names on Ashland University’s library building. It will serve as an ongoing testament to the Archer’s history philanthropy to AU,” Campo said. “With their extraordinary philanthropy, the Archers intend to help the University navigate the difficult times experienced across the higher education spectrum, from COVID-19 to a changing student demographic to tuition affordability. And those future Eagles will be reminded of the Archers’ incredible generosity, whether it be through a scholarship, and athletic opportunity or by seeing the family name on the AU library – a fitting ‘thank you’ to two people who believe so strongly in the value of education.
All this is possible, Jan said, because she and her husband have been blessed. “We are just paying it back,” she said, “or paying it forward, depending how you look at it.”