One day after Augustana College in Rock Island celebrated the largest donation in its history, cross-town private school St. Ambrose University in Davenport did the same.

SAU alum Patricia VanBruwaene (who died Nov. 2, 2021) left her alma mater a multi-million-dollar gift, the biggest in the history of the 140-year-old institution. While 1975 Augie alum Murry Gerber gave $40 million to Augustana (announced April 6), Ambrose president Amy Novak on Thursday did not reveal the amount of the new donation.

SAU is renaming its business school the Patricia VanBruwaene College of Business, to honor the legacy of an East Moline native who built a successful career with Deere & Company. VanBruwaene earned her bachelor’s in Business Administration degree from SAU in 1974, and an H.L. McLaughlin Master of Business Administration degree in 1984.

She died last fall, 20 years after retiring as Manager of Pensions and Benefits for Deere & Company.

Through her estate, she contributed the largest gift in SAU history, which will bolster scholarship funding that makes SAU’s faithful, student-focused classroom and campus experience accessible to students across the economic and learning spectrum, according to a Thursday release.

The University is not releasing the donation figure at this time.

“Pat was very appreciative of her experience at St. Ambrose,” trust attorney Robert Noe said of VanBruwaene. “She felt that education put her on a path to what she accomplished at Deere.”

A female pioneer in leadership

VanBruwaene began her career at a time when few women were in leadership roles for large multinational corporations.

Amy Novak is president of St. Ambrose University.

“For women currently in leadership roles such as mine, the Patricia VanBruwaenes of the mid-to-late 20th century were pacesetters,” Novak said in a ceremony held in the expanded and renovated McMullen Hall, which was dedicated a year ago as the official home to the College of Business.

“I hope this speaks to current and future generations of business leaders and tells them St. Ambrose University will provide the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed, adapt and grow in the fast-changing, digital workplace,” Novak said. “They will do so, thankfully, in a world where corporations recognize the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce, an experience that Patricia was at the forefront of creating when she started her career in the early 1970s.”

St. Ambrose President Emeritus Edward Rogalski was dean of students when VanBruwaene enrolled at St. Ambrose in 1970, just a year after the school officially became a co-educational institution. He remembered her as a strong and confident student and later as an engaged and committee alumna.

“Pat had an ability to articulate her ideas in a compelling way that convinced others of her perspective,” he said. “She was bright, articulate, and poised. She fit that Deere persona in terms of all those qualities you might expect in a Deere executive.”

VanBruwaene later was among many Deere executives who enhanced their credentials and leadership viability when St. Ambrose launched the MBA program in 1977 as the school’s initial graduate studies offering.

MBA program sought women

The MBA program didn’t merely include women who had an eye on corporate leadership. It pursued them, the Ambrose release said.

“We went out of our way to recruit women,” said Joe McCaffery, PhD, the program’s first director and a veteran COB professor who retired in 2018 after 60 years in higher education. “At the time, we had a lot of talented vice presidents from Deere in the program and they helped us recruit women candidates. She obviously was a standout.”

VanBruwaene was a leader in the community as well as in the workforce. In 1990, she became the first female president of the Illinois Quad City Chamber of Commerce and worked with government leaders and legislators to ensure the completion of John Deere Road.

She also was a founding member of what is now Visit Quad Cities, earned the 1994 Rotary Club Golden Book of Good Deeds for community service, and was a longtime volunteer for the John Deere Classic. She was a past president of the St. Ambrose Alumni Executive Committee and a St. Ambrose Alumni Award recipient.

Mara Downing of Deere & Company is an SAU alumna.

Mara (Sovey) Downing ’98 is among the many women who followed VanBruwaene into leadership at Deere & Company, where today, 19 percent of the executive leadership force consists of women.

“Pat was a valued employee, respected community leader, and vigorous supporter of St. Ambrose,” Downing, who is vice president of Global Brand and Communications at Deere & Company, said on behalf of the Moline-based company. “While we are saddened by her passing, we know her legacy will live on through her generous gift to the school.”