'We all do better when we all do better'

Ron Hunter

Ron Hunter ’70 on campus for the Class of 1970’s 50th Reunion

Former St. Olaf College Regent Ron Hunter '70 knows that education can change people forever.

“That’s why education is so important to me — at its core, its positive impact on society is enormous. I think we all do better when we all do better,” Hunter says. “That belief in the common good has guided me, including my decision to go to St. Olaf.”

“For me, CUBE’s mission and helping students access a college education are important — I could support both by creating a scholarship.”

Growing up, Hunter's family cherished learning as a way to better one’s self and their community. His dad supported him going to college but couldn’t afford to send him to St. Olaf (Hunter’s mother had died young, leaving his dad with a house full of kids). So, Hunter worked a day job and a night job each summer to pay his way through college.

“The money problem was a big one. I feel I missed out on a quarter of the learning opportunities available to me because I couldn’t afford them,” Hunter says. “When times were hard, I debated whether to leave or stay. But I stuck it out with the encouragement of my family and friends.”

As a student, that resource disparity was one way systemic racism impacted his education. Another was the lack of Black history and culture in St. Olaf’s curriculum. For Hunter, it ignored part of his identity at a time it seemed to matter the most. It also kept Oles from knowing the full truths about their world that they needed to understand to help make it better. So, Hunter took a lead and worked with others to change things.

Hunter co-founded the Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE), a student organization and commons housed in the former Ytterboe Annex. Through the student-run Free University, CUBE members educated many St. Olaf students about Black culture and history in America — from 1619, the year many believed the first African slaves were brought to the English colonies, to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. CUBE stands today among other student organizations advancing equity and inclusion. Their courses helped lay the groundwork for Race and Ethnic Studies at St. Olaf.

“The college was really a rookie when it came to dealing with students of color,” Hunter says. “There were hiccups and negative things along the way. But our history teaching was done fairly well and was very satisfying to us. It really complemented the history being taught in the classroom.”

After graduating from St. Olaf, Hunter pursued successful careers in the U.S. Navy, as a commissioned officer rising to the rank of Captain, and as a lawyer, eventually specializing in intellectual property law before retiring as Assistant Vice President and Chief Trademark Counsel at Cargill, Inc. In each, he continued promoting education and working to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Advancing the Work

When planning his retirement, Hunter considered ways he could pay forward the support he had during his years at St. Olaf, help others get an education, and keep advancing equity and inclusion. He thought kindly on how an early work associate had helped him buy a car to access his night job as a computer operator at Honeywell. When he went to pay her back, she declined the repayment and encouraged him to help someone else in the future. Honoring the support she and others provided, he created an endowed scholarship at St. Olaf providing financial aid to Oles who are members of CUBE.

“Putting it in my estate plan was simple. I worked with a trust and estate specialist — I set it up to accomplish what I wanted to do for the college and still accomplish what I wanted to do for my family and others. I have seen how well the college stewards the financial resources it is provided. That gives me confidence that my gift will continue to do something positive long into the future.”

“The value of my liberal arts education was tremendous. It enabled me to adjust and learn, think critically, and envision a future,” Hunter says. “I also made fantastic lifelong friends due in large part to the college’s residential setting and a great football team. CUBE can enhance that experience and help develop students who are going to help us keep getting better down the road. For me, CUBE’s mission and helping students access a college education are important — I could support both by creating a scholarship.”

Recently Hunter added to his scholarship by including it in his estate plan.

“Putting it in my estate plan was simple. I worked with a trust and estate specialist — I set it up to accomplish what I wanted to do for the college and still accomplish what I wanted to do for my family and others. I have seen how well the college stewards the financial resources it is provided. That gives me confidence that my gift will continue to do something positive long into the future.”

In July, Hunter celebrated his 50th Reunion along with his classmates. While much has changed since his graduation, a lot hasn’t.

“Jim Crow and segregation have affected my entire lifetime,” Hunter says. “Generally there seems to have been a misconception that bigotry and discrimination were resolved by one snapshot in time — the Civil Rights Movement. Instead, it is clear now, if it wasn’t before, that it must continuously be addressed. It requires all of us as a community to stand fast with the values we believe in if we are to resolve the inherent problems resulting from the racial history of our country. This work takes persistence, perseverance, and knowing that you aren’t always going to get it right. That’s okay as long as we keep working toward the truth. The truth matters.

“For me, that’s what education is about.”