Washington University in St. Louis alumnus and emeritus trustee John Dains has made an $8 million commitment to support an undergraduate student success fund at his alma mater, announced Chancellor Andrew D. Martin.
The endowed fund, to be called the Stephanie Brooks Dains and John Dains Student Success Fund, is named for Dains and his late wife, Stephanie Brooks Dains, also a graduate of Washington University. It dramatically increases funding available to help students with financial need cover emergency and educational enrichment expenses.
“There are certain moments in a university’s history that can be described as transformational. The establishment of the Stephanie Brooks Dains and John Dains Student Success Fund is one of these moments for Washington University,” Martin said. “Because of John’s generous gift, the university will be able to fulfill its moral responsibility to provide our students with the resources needed to thrive at WashU.
“Because of John’s generous gift, the university will be able to fulfill its moral responsibility to provide our students with the resources needed to thrive at WashU.”Chancellor Andrew D. Martin
“John and his late wife, Stephanie, have a distinguished legacy of helping students at the university in many meaningful ways. This gift continues that legacy and will make a tremendous difference in the lives of our undergraduate students with need.
“I am truly grateful for this much-needed support that will expand and strengthen our efforts to ensure that all students can fully engage in the WashU experience,” Martin said.
Meeting a critical need
The gift is believed to be one of the largest gifts to a university for student support, whether that be for a computer, a trip home for a family emergency or a suit for a job interview — costs that fall outside the parameters of a standard financial aid package. A lack of resources for these expenses can impede students’ successful progression through Washington University.
The university has made substantial progress in attracting and enrolling talented students with financial need, growing its number of Pell Grant-eligible first-year students from 6% in 2013 to 16% in 2020 and offering financial aid programs such as the WashU Pledge to students whose families make less than $75,000 a year.
In addition to providing access to a WashU education, the university must help all its students succeed. “Success comes from being able to take full advantage of the total WashU experience,” said Rob Wild, interim vice chancellor for student affairs. “Some students can’t fully partake in university enrichment opportunities, like joining a club or attending a music or theater performance or going on a study-abroad trip, because of the costs. And there are emergencies that may pop up, and a student suddenly needs airfare home, or even just a new pair of eyeglasses.
“This important gift from Mr. Dains will address a critical need and could mean the difference between students staying and completing their WashU education or dropping out,” Wild said.
Dains, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Olin Business School in 1968, is CEO emeritus of Helm Financial Corp., a leading railcar and locomotive operating leasing company based in San Francisco and now owned by Wells Fargo.
He and Stephanie, a native of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, met as students at Washington University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Arts & Sciences in 1969. She also earned a master’s degree in teaching from Webster University in St. Louis and an art therapy certificate from the University of California, Berkeley.
She was an art therapist and teacher at the California School for the Blind. In 2006, she founded the Art4Moore foundation in memory of her mother. The organization provided art supplies and resources for teachers, students and the elderly through grants.
The couple were longtime supporters of the university until her death at age 69 in June 2016.
“Stephanie would have wholeheartedly supported this gift and its focus on making it possible for students to take advantage of all that university life has to offer,” Dains said. “Supporting students through scholarships has always been near and dear to us, and it pleases me that her name and impact through this fund will live on in the successful lives of Washington University graduates.”
Continuous support, engagement
The Dains’ support of the university goes back to John’s first year as an alumnus, and it hasn’t stopped.
A native of Benton, Ark., and one of six children, John attended the university with help from scholarships and student loans. A brother, Michael, AB ’76, MBA ’80, also is a WashU graduate, as is Michael’s daughter Hannah, AB ’20.
After making his first gift to Olin Business School in 1970, John helped solicit university support from local businesses.
John and Stephanie joined the William Greenleaf Eliot Society for donors in 1984 and, in the 1990s, joined the San Francisco Regional Cabinet, becoming more involved with the university and the San Francisco alumni community. John was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2009 and became an emeritus trustee in 2018.
In 2005, John and Stephanie endowed their first scholarship — the Mary E. and Charles V. Dains, Sr. Scholarship in honor of his parents.
In 2008, they made a $1.25 million gift to name the main dining hall of the newly built Danforth University Center (DUC). The John F. and Stephanie Brooks Dains Great Dining Hall on the first floor of the DUC is one of the most popular dining halls and gathering spaces for the university community.
A bronze plaque in the Dains Dining Hall quotes the couple: “No single experience has affected our lives more than our time at Washington University. Not only did the university develop our critical thinking, it introduced us to many of our greatest lifelong friends, not to mention each other. Over meals with friends at WU, we solved most of the world’s problems of the mid- to late ’60s — and had a lot of fun in the process.”
In 2010, they made a gift to establish the Stephanie Brooks Dains and John F. Dains Scholarship for Olin Business School students. Other scholarship gifts include $1 million for endowed scholarships in 2013; a $3 million estate commitment in 2015 for universitywide scholarships; and a gift in 2016 to create the Sarah Bass Thal Scholarship in Arts & Sciences in memory of their friend.
In addition to providing financial support, the couple enjoyed meeting with students, including those who received their scholarships. They also hosted university-related events, even inviting students studying abroad in Paris to their home there for Thanksgiving dinner.
Students can begin applying in the fall to the student success fund, which will be administered through the university’s Office for Student Success.