Marina Morningstar spent the summer at home in Vancouver, Washington splitting her days between being a Fresno State Dog Days orientation leader virtually and working at a local restaurant to pay for school.

As the oldest of three children, finding a way to help her parents pay for her college is always top of mind — especially this year.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March, Morningstar watched her childhood friends return home from private universities across the country, and by mid-summer decide that they would stay and attend community college this year due to costs. The sophomore business major, who took out a loan to help cover her freshman year, was afraid she’d have to do the same since her job would not cover the cost of tuition and fees and her fall on-campus job prospects fell through as most of campus transitioned to virtual classes and services.

Fortunately, she learned that the President’s Circle of Excellence, an annual fund for private gifts to be distributed at the discretion of the president, could help her.

“I cried so much. It was so amazing,” said Morningstar, who has no in-person classes and remains at home attending virtually this fall. “I got this new sense of hope.”

Gifts to the University during the 2019-20 academic year totaled about $32.9 million — $25 million for academics and $7.9 million for athletics. That’s an increase of about 19% in overall giving from the year before and the second-highest year in the University’s history of private support.

“The increased private investment in the University this past year, despite the collective challenges faced in the spring, is a testament to the unshakeable support by our many alumni and friends for Fresno State,” said University President Joseph I. Castro. “With the backdrop of waning state funding for higher education, the generosity of thousands of individuals and organizations makes an impactful and lasting contribution to the success of our talented students.”

Alumnus Barry Maas and his wife, Peggy, were among the 10,967 people who contributed to Fresno State last year. Maas, president and chief executive officer of Administrative Solutions, Inc. in Fresno, earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration with an accountancy option at Fresno State.

The couple have long supported the University, initially through athletics, then other areas including the Renaissance Scholars Program and last year with a $150,000 gift to the President’s Circle.

“We want to give to areas where help is needed, helping the underdog or the less fortunate,” said Barry Maas, whose son recently graduated from Fresno State. “Fresno State was instrumental in getting me where I needed to be, to be successful, and where I am in life. I think we both find that the University is important to our community, and we strongly believe in higher education.”

Here is a look at some of the other noteworthy gifts across the Fresno State campus last year:

  • $1.5 million bequest from Marge Winters to support student-athletes through the Bulldog Foundation. Winters, and her husband Richard who passed away in 2019, were Easton farmers with a passion for Fresno State athletics.
  • $1 million from the late Paul O’Neill, Sr., Fresno State alumnus and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, to the President’s Circle of Excellence.
  • $250,000 from Saint Agnes Medical Center to support the Fresno State Community Health Mobile Unit.
  • $250,000 from Fowler Packing Company to create the Ag One — Parnagian Family Endowment, which supports the University Agricultural Laboratory.
  • $170,000 from Antonio (Tony) Petrosino to establish the Antonio and Louise Petrosino Family Italian Studies Endowment and the Antonio and Louise Petrosino Family Italian Studies Endowed Scholarship.

“All gifts, large and small, demonstrate the power of caring and strengthen Fresno State’s ability to increase the number of graduates prepared to work, lead and give back to our community and the world,” said Paula Castadio, vice president for University Advancement.