Jim and Candy Unruh Donate $15 Million to University of Jamestown

May 5, 2023
By Natalie McKenna

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New Center of Faith and Life & Voorhees Chapel Renovation

Gift Establishes UJ’s School of Character in Leadership and Kickstarts Capital Campaign

On May 5, 2023, University of Jamestown President, Dr. Polly Peterson, announced a $15 million gift from Jim and Candy Unruh. It is the largest single donation in university history, as well as the largest single gift given to private education in North Dakota. Watch a recording of the press conference here.

New Center of Faith and Life & Voorhees Chapel
New center for faith and life (center) connects the Badal Nafus Center (right) to Voorhees Chapel.

The gift goes towards the creation and naming of University of Jamestown’s new School of Character in Leadership and will support the renovation of the Voorhees Chapel and a new building that will become the center for faith and life. This gift kickstarts UJ’s next capital campaign, which will launch publicly in the fall.

“Leadership is something we are all engaged in, and the pressure of leadership today is enormous,” said Jim Unruh. “We can’t be more supportive of trying to raise this program up, because the need is great. The success I’ve had has a lot to do with the values that were reinforced here at UJ. We’re happy to be able to provide this kind of support.”

Dr. Peterson expressed deep gratitude for the Unruhs’ support: “Jim has been an incredible visionary for University of Jamestown, challenging us to think boldly while never losing sight of the values upon which we were founded. With my heart and mind still absorbing the magnitude of this gift, I thank Jim and Candy through tear-filled eyes knowing that their love and commitment for UJ will forever secure the integrity of our commitment to values-based education rooted in Christian principles.”

New Center of Faith and Life & Voorhees Chapel Renovation
Voorhees Chapel (left) connected to new center for faith and life.

In 2006, University of Jamestown embarked on a mission to formally embrace leadership education in its academic curriculum by creating and launching the undergraduate Character in Leadership (CIL) program. The program emphasized the core attributes of a Presbyterian Christian education, including ethical and moral discernment, the search for truth, and the holistic development of self and others.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Hunt, Director of Character in Leadership, “This program was originally established as a minor, because we believe that students in any major—from biology and exercise science to accounting and teacher education—can be great leaders.”

In 2015, the University extended its leadership education by developing and launching a Master of Arts in Leadership (MAL) program geared toward the working professional. With nearly 200 graduates since its founding, the program has helped guide executives in myriad industries including banking, technology, healthcare, sports, and the non-profit sector.

New center for faith and life interior. Chapel basement (left) houses School of Character in Leadership. Garden terrace (center) uses natural lighting to bring outdoors inside. Café (right) overlooks garden terrace.

“The ideals of leadership training and character development stem from the founding values of the University, as well as our mission to develop wholeness in students,” explained Dr. Peterson. “The blessings of this gift will impact the lives of every single student we serve. The University has been building character since 1883, and this gift will allow us to expand our reach, serve an even greater number of students, and transform the way we deliver character in leadership for students of all ages and stages of life and career.”

The new School of Character in Leadership will provide diversified programming options including workshops, certificates, and degree programs at the undergraduate, master, and doctoral levels blending leadership theory with practice. Courses will be available on the Jamestown campus, as well as through the University’s online learning division, University of Jamestown Accelerated.

Café serves as student union, opening into the Badal Nafus Center.

According to Dr. Hunt, UJ’s leadership program is different from others because it transcends traditional business leadership. It is based on the servant leadership of Jesus, focusing centrally on the continued development of self, others, and teams for the good of organizations, communities, and the world.

“Our vision is that University of Jamestown, through its School of Character in Leadership, will be the premier institution for character-based leadership education on a regional, national, and international scale,” said Dr. Hunt. “Character is developed through identifying values, engaging in principled action, intellectual discipline, discernment, humility, and service to others. It can be guided and nurtured in ways that honor the unique gifts and qualities of everyone. We aspire to become a dynamic hub for the creation and dissemination of leadership research.”

New Center of Faith and Life & Voorhees Chapel Renovation
Expected outcome of Voorhees Chapel renovations.

The Voorhees Chapel and the new center for faith and life are also part of the upcoming capital campaign. The chapel, which was built between 1917 and 1918, will undergo renovation, while the center for faith and life will be constructed to house the School of Character in Leadership—connecting the chapel to the Badal Nafus Center.

“This new space will serve as a bridge between faith and student life,” explained VP of Development and Alumni Relations, Brett Moser. “We want to give our students the opportunity to explore their beliefs, ask questions, and be critical thinkers in a modern space that fits the needs of today’s students.”

Dr. Peterson expanded on the significance of the new center for faith and life: “Providing space and place for this new program is very important. The center will act as a student union where students, faculty, and staff gather, socialize, and discuss ideas. This space will help fulfill our commitment to co-curricular education and learning that happens beyond the classroom.”

Moser explained how the Unruhs’ gift sets the tone for the University’s upcoming campaign.

“It’s inspiring to see a couple so committed to our mission and vision. Jim and Candy are long-time supporters of UJ, with Jim serving on our board of trustees for 33 years,” said Moser. “A gift of this size and aimed in this direction ensures that University of Jamestown honors the history and foundation we were built on through our Presbyterian founders in 1883. It allows us to create a space where students can grow as leaders and explore the biggest questions in life. We’re thankful to the Unruhs for giving us this opportunity.”

New Center of Faith and Life & Voorhees Chapel Renovation

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