10/19/2020 ASHLAND, Ohio – In the Ashland University family, Columbus resident Deborah Liebert Karl is known as a member of the Board of Trustees, an alumna and generous benefactor.
But her mother, Evelyn, says Karl “is a product of her father,” Jack Liebert, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in World War II and enlisted to fight in the Korean War. AU Vice President of Institutional Advancement Margaret Pomfret said Thursday that although she’d never met Liebert, who died in 2012, she knows Karl must be like him.
“She’s optimistic,” Pomfret said. “She’s impatient at times but she also focused on what’s important.”
What’s important to Karl are AU’s student veterans, which is why she became the lead donor for the creation of The Jack W. Liebert Military & Veteran Resource Center, which had its official ribbon cutting Thursday evening. In order to observe COVID-19 restrictions, the ceremony was conducted in front of a small group of members of the AU Board of Trustees, University leadership, friends and supporters of the project, Karl’s family and, of course, the student veterans whom she has come to love.
To those students, Karl is more than a generous benefactor.
“You are an awesome individual,” U.S. Marine Corps veteran and AU psychology major De Vaughnte Askew told Karl. “You’re the mom of the student veterans in Ashland.” And when new student veterans arrive on campus, Askew said, they are told, “You better take care of her, because she takes care of us.”
The road to the center started three years ago, when the university already was serving 200 student veterans. It was, Pomfret said, AU President Carlos Campo’s “vision that led us here tonight.” Looking across the state, Campo said, there are 860,000 veterans and he wanted them to know “there’s a place for you here.”
Campo and Pomfret shared the idea with Karl, and what started as a conversation soon became a plan, as “it didn’t take long,” Campo said, “for (Karl) to catch the vision.”
As it turned out, there was a location that proved to be just right. Built in 1942, the brick facility on College Avenue had for years served the Brethren Church as its denominational headquarters, a publishing company and a launching point for mission efforts around the world.
It was a place of peace and a place of service, according to Steven Cole, the executive director of the Brethren Church. And now, he said, it will continue in that spirit of service as it will “empower men and women who work here in this place to be people of peace and support.”
The renovation of the building involved the work of Brandon Andrzejczak of The Collaborative and Simonson Construction Services. Inside, there are conference spaces and offices for veterans services director Randy Spade and support staff, a lounge where veteran students and staff can share a sense of comradery and.
None of this would have been possible without Karl’s $1 million gift. In addition, Pomfret said, Karl went with University officials to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office to make an appeal. “If you care about our veterans,” Pomfret recalled Karl telling state officials, “you’ll match my gift.
“Anybody in this room would never have told her no,” Pomfret added.
“My hope is for all the veteran students to consider this their home,” Karl said, prior to cutting the ribbon alongside other donors, University officials and members of her family. Though Jack Liebert seldom spoke of his years in the service, she said, “My dad was a very humble man, a very generous man who loved his family very much.”
For his part, Spade is happy to get to work in the new center, where he regularly sees AU’s transformational educational experience. Working with student veterans, he said, “I get to celebrate their victories and I get to help them overcome their obstacles.”
Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students.###