The United Methodist-related University of Indianapolis junior Ryan Brock may have never met Walt and Barbara Brown, but for years to come their generosity will support students like him in completing their educations and becoming leaders in their churches and communities.

A gift from the Indianapolis couple's estate - totaling approximately $500,000 - will endow scholarships for students in UIndy's United Methodist Youth Leader program.

The university awards $2,000 each year to 16 undergraduate scholars, all members of United Methodist congregations, who agree to take a series of Christian Vocations courses and participate in ministry, retreats and other activities as students. In addition to the scholarships, funds are available for the university chaplains to shape leadership development opportunities for each UMYL scholar.

"It's been fundamental to my college experience," says Brock, who grew up attending Church of the Four Seasons UMC in Crown Point before enrolling at UIndy. "Immediately, freshman year, I was involved in ministry here."

Barbara and Walt Brown
Despite his busy academic schedule while double-majoring in youth ministry and pre-theology, Brock has been active on and off campus, organizing worship services, participating in mission trips and working with youth.

For an honors project at UIndy, he is developing a package of retreats and service projects designed to address an issue he learned about in those Christian Vocations courses: the challenge of retaining male students in youth ministry programs, where female students are increasingly prevalent.

"I've been able to travel the country and talk at conferences about these things," Brock says.

Like his father, Mark Brock, who left his information technology career for the seminary and is now pastor of Faith UMC in Wanatah, Ind., Ryan expects to enter the ministry in some capacity. However, that's not true of all students in the United Methodist Youth Leader program.

"Some of the students are pre-theology students and are intending to serve the United Methodist Church as ordained clergy, but most of the students are not pursuing full-time careers in ministry," said Dr. Michael Cartwright, UIndy's dean of Ecumenical and Interfaith Programs. "They are eager to serve God in other capacities, including in areas of service connected to their majors in nursing, occupational therapy, marketing, history and other subjects."

Another UMYL student

For example, another current UMYL scholar is Hilary Foltz of Dyer, Ind. Her goal after graduating in May 2009 is to be a kindergarten teacher. But as a student, she also has built a foundation of faith-based service as a chapel steward on campus, a small group leader in her current congregation and a participant in mission trips around the United States and in South Africa.

The UMYL program was created in 2003 with funding from the Lilly Endowment, but the university has to cover all the costs beginning with the 2009-2010 academic year. The Browns' gift, therefore, came at a good time.

"We still are seeking further resources to maintain and enhance this program, but this goes a long way toward meeting our goal of funding all the scholarships," Cartwright said.

Very frugal

The Browns were not wealthy by conventional standards. Walt began working for General Motors at age 17 and retired 43 years later as a draftsman. Barbara worked as a secretary. In 2002, she died and Walt suffered a stroke. Upon his death in November 2007, he had arranged for some of their estate to be passed down to nieces and nephews, but for the majority to support programs at UIndy.

"They were very frugal," says the Browns' accountant and friend Don Miller, who is administering their estate. "They were good, solid people, as good as gold."

Neither one attended the University of Indianapolis, but they became acquainted with the university through friends Bob and Harriet Barrick. Harriet, who grew up with Barbara Brown, had attended the former Indiana Central College, and Bob was the university's longtime controller before retiring in 1988. Both couples were active in the now-defunct Brookside United Methodist Church on Indianapolis' east side.

The Barricks, whose four daughters graduated from UIndy, always enjoyed attending university events, and they often brought along the Browns, who had no children.

"They used to come with us to plays and basketball games and football games," Harriet recalls.

Over time, the Browns developed their own affinity for higher education and its impact on young lives, Bob says.

"It wasn't us, so much," he says. "They liked the people that they met at the university."

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