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Donor Profile: H. William “Bill” Gabriel — Thinking outside the box


H. William “Bill” Gabriel H. William “Bill” Gabriel

May 15, 2017 – “I dreamed of an outdoor life somewhere in the mountains, and at some distance from civilization, so I aspired to a degree in forestry and wildlife conservation,” said H. William “Bill” Gabriel (’56 B.S. forestry and wildlife). “But we were poor folks, and tuition, room, and board at VPI [now Virginia Tech] was out of reach. Then I won a Virginia Academy of Sciences scholarship with a small study of local birds, so I applied to VPI and was offered a state scholarship. That changed my life.”

Gabriel remembers hard work as an undergraduate and Spartan cadet accommodations in what is now Eggleston Hall. “I could look out my window and watch the stonecutters carve figures for the Pylons,” he recalled. He was shaping his own future just as purposefully. With his career goal firmly in mind, he found jobs on campus during the academic year and, in the summers, hitchhiked to California where he fought forest fires and gained other hands-on experience.

“My education at VPI was the key to realizing a dream of an interesting and colorful outdoor life well off the beaten track,” he said. “In my 32 years with the U.S. Forest Service, I worked from the windblown, treeless tundra of Alaska’s Arctic coast to the steaming equatorial forests of Ecuador, and loved every minute.”

Following retirement from government service, Gabriel became a writer and photographer, with work published in textbooks, encyclopedias, Audubon, Discover, Natural History, Time, and U.S. News. But after a dozen years of travel spanning six continents, ill health forced a second retirement. Gabriel now serves his local Montana Audubon Society chapter as chair of an endowment supporting research at the University of Montana, where he had earned a doctorate in wildlife. His charitable giving includes both of his alma maters.

“For quite a while, my donations to VPI were small sums in response to annual giving solicitations,” he said. But he wanted to more fully express his appreciation for his education and for the scholarships and student work opportunities that made his undergraduate education possible. “In 1999, I decided to endow an undergraduate scholarship for a forestry student that would make me feel like I was repaying for [all] I had received.”

“I’m not a rich person and wasn’t able to fund an endowment all at once,” Gabriel added. However, as with other seemingly unattainable goals, he reached outside the box to create a solution that worked for him. “I arranged to fund the scholarship over a number of years with gifts of stock, IRA proceeds [charitable IRA rollovers], and cash, depending on what worked best for me each year.” Gabriel included scholarship support in his estate plans as well, making Virginia Tech and the University of Montana equal beneficiaries of his life insurance and retirement account.

“My idea has been to help individual students realize their dream of a life among the trees and the birds, just as I was enabled by help from others,” he said. “I guess that behind all this is a love for the outdoors, coupled with a desire to raise a new generation of foresters who will care for the health of our environment. I just want to help students, one by one, so they can go on to greater things.”

    CNRE Newsmagazine Spring 2017 Cover

Spring 2017

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