August 15, 2010, was a day for celebrating the life of David K. Guttormsen. Diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) in 1955, when he was 5 years old, David lived an active, involved and passionate existence – even graduating from college – before passing away at age 23. Although it's been 55 years since David received his diagnosis, and 37 years since he passed on, he continues to inspire his family to faithfully support the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and our efforts to eradicate muscle-damaging diseases like DMD.
David's father, Glen E. Guttormsen, was recognized Aug. 15 at an event in Medford, Ore., for having successfully created MDA's first–ever endowment fund. The Glen E. and David K. Guttormsen Endowed Fund for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Research was created earlier this year to provide a constant source of funding for DMD research until treatments are developed or a cure is discovered.
While reminiscing about David's life, Glen and David's older brother, Gary, talked about how smart David was, and how strong he was until complications of DMD finally ended his life. Gary and Glen spoke with pride about being "tough Norwegians," and that David was "as tough as they come."
After graduating from high school, David enrolled at San Jose State University (SJSU) with a keen interest in journalism. David already was using a wheelchair before high school graduation and few college campuses were "wheelchair friendly" in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Americans with Disabilities Act did not become the law of the land until 1990.
Gary recalled that the journalism department at SJSU was housed at the top of a multistory building. The building had no elevator or ramps, which made it very difficult for David to attend classes. Being a "tough Norwegian," David developed his own solution to the problem. He changed majors, first to geography, then to African studies. He became fluent in Swahili and was known for tutoring student-athletes on SJSU's football team. Despite all the difficulties he faced, David graduated with honors from SJSU just months before passing away.
Our celebration event was a quiet, low-key affair, just like Glen wanted. Attending were Glen, as the guest of honor, Gary, and Glen's dear friend Back row, from left: William Orr, Gavin Johnson, Tammy Barry, Dr. Cornelia Byers, Arlene Wedsted, Rebecca Long, Dr. Stephen Brummer and Richard Brown. Front row, from left: Susan Orr, Janet Murray, Sandy Wilson, Jane Dolan, Glen Guttormsen and Gary Guttormsen. David's Day A Day of Help & Hope in Behalf of David K. Guttormsen Dr. Cornelia Byers and Glen E. Guttormsen and companion Jane Dolan. Also in attendance was Dr. Cornelia Byers, director of the MDA Clinic at Providence Medford Medical Center, and her husband, Dr. Stephen Brummer; MDA support group facilitator Janet Murphy; longtime MDA supporters William and Susan Orr; as well as many other MDA family members, including staff from MDA's District, Regional and National offices.
Arlene Wedsted, executive director of the MDA office in Medford, was successful in getting local TV station KTVL to send a cameraman to interview Glen and capture the event on film. The piece was to air on the local news and was shown on the 2010 Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.
So, you might ask, "What's all the excitement about an endowment fund?" Or, more specifically, "What's an endowment fund?" One definition of an endowment fund is that it's a gift of money or an incomeproducing asset to a public organization (such as MDA), for a specific purpose (such as DMD research). Generally, the gift is kept intact; the principal is never invaded, and only the fund's investment earnings are spent. In the case of the Glen E. and David K. Guttormsen Endowed Fund for DMD Research, Glen already has made a cash gift and two charitable annuities, and he intends on making a future bequest from his estate to fully fund the restricted endowment account.
When fully funded, the endowment account's investment earnings will be monitored quarterly and valued annually. Earnings will be calculated and distributed for DMD research. Along with the knowledge that MDA funds the best, peer-reviewed, neuromuscular disease research in the world comes the understanding that research is expensive. On average, an MDA-sponsored research project costs about $125,000 per year for three years.
Conservatively speaking, if an endowment fund, after investment management expenses, earns 5 percent annually, then the fund will need to have about $2.5 million in assets in order to generate enough earnings to completely support one research project. While Glen's financial commitment to his endowment fund is substantial, he will not be making a $2.5 million gift.
But Glen did want his endowment to be meaningful in relation to the cost of a typical research project. So, with foresight, Glen built a "growth component" into the "asset management" portion of his endowment fund agreement. The growth component spending clause states that MDA will spend only 85 percent of the fund's net annual earnings on DMD research.
The flip side of this spending clause is the growth component. The remaining 15 percent of the fund's net annual earnings will be added to the fund and treated just like the principal, meaning it will never be invaded or spent. With a growth component built into his endowment fund agreement, Glen knows the fund will continue to grow over time. Continued growth means there is a reasonable expectation for larger distributions from the fund in the future.
Through Glen's gentle but persistent force of will – "Norwegian Style" – MDA is now ready, willing and able to accept other endowment gifts. Endowment gifts to support MDA's programs and services should be funded with minimum gifts of $100,000. Endowment gifts to support MDA's research grants should be funded with minimum gifts of $500,000. Endowment gifts can be made by pledge with a 10 percent down payment. They are to be paid in full over a four-year period, except when final gifts are to be made from distributions from one's estate.
Why all the excitement about MDA's first-ever endowment fund? By opening up this type of giving, Glen has made it possible for others to create their own, named endowment funds. Folks who like the concept of endowment giving but don't have the means to create their own endowed fund can make gifts to Glen's and David's fund or other endowment funds after they are created. The possibilities are endless, and everyone wins. Donors win knowing that their contributions will fund the programs, services or research of their choosing. MDA wins because we can budget for future expenditures. And those with muscular dystrophy can easily understand the help and hope provided by these kinds of gifts.
Winston Churchill is credited with saying, "A man makes a living by what he earns, but he makes a life by what he gives." David, Glen, Gary and the whole Guttormsen family have made wonderful, fulfilling lives by what they have given to MDA.