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Winkler, Smith families start endowment fund in memory of influential alumna

The Student Success Center at Oklahoma Christian University is preparing to receive an endowment from the Winkler and Smith families on Friday in honor of the late Donna Winkler Smith. The donation will help the center encourage both spiritual and academic success in the lives of college students on campus.

Director of Student Success Amy Janzen said the Winkler family first approached her last year with the goal of better understanding the services the center offers. She said after meeting with the families, she realized they were interested in making a donation to the center.

“This is very exciting for us,” Janzen said. “It will allow us to do some great things for the students and to serve them better.”

Janzen said the center currently offers a wide variety of services to Oklahoma Christian students, but the endowment will allow them to expand those offerings. She said the implications of the donation are hugely impactful and will create more opportunities for students to succeed.

“We are very thrilled about this generous gift,” Janzen said. “I didn’t have the honor of knowing Donna Winkler, but I can tell she was a truly amazing individual. She had a great love for students and I’m just honored that this family would choose to give this gift for us and help us serve our students better.”

Missionaries in Residence Kent and Nancy Hartman said they were long-time friends of Smith and believe this gift to the university both honors her memory and embodies the values she lived out every day. They said she had a passion for individuals who needed a little extra help to succeed, especially during her time as a teacher.

“[Her students] were all kind of on-the-fringe and high-risk kids that she taught and she did incredible things with them,” Nancy said. “She took them to these national conferences and they didn’t have the funding or the things that these other big schools had, but they won all kinds of prizes because she believed in them, so they believed in themselves.”

According to Nancy, Smith was a well-rounded person who took her faith and academics seriously, cared deeply for others and saw students as a ministry opportunity. Nancy said Smith’s energy and wisdom allowed her to accomplish a lot for her community and for God.

“I just think that she loved God and she loved people, and she let Him use her to love everybody,” Nancy said. “She was really good at seeing someone who needed some special encouragement and just [encouraging them]. I think that was a God thing. God just used her because He knew she was willing to reach out in ways that other people might not have or to people that others might not have.”

Senior Thomas Winkler, Smith’s nephew, said his aunt constantly encouraged him and everyone else around her. He said she was rarely upset and served as a driving force in everything she was involved in.

“She was always an A-type personality who always wanted to get things done and always wanted to help people out whenever she could,” Winkler said. “She definitely was the social type as well.”

Winkler said Smith was passionate about supporting others and would have loved the concept of the Student Success Center at Oklahoma Christian. He said Smith valued education and was actively involved in using it to better peoples’ lives.

“That’s definitely something she would’ve wanted from this university, I’m sure,” Winkler said. “She was a teacher and she cared about her students. If she wanted people to be successful in life, then the way she could do it is help them in their education. Doing this for the Student Success Center, I think, is the perfect thing for her. She would have wanted this definitely.”

According to Nancy, Smith was constantly seeking out opportunities to make positive changes in the world around her. She said Smith would have loved to work in the Student Success Center and would have immersed herself in its purpose and goal on campus.

“She was a force on campus,” Nancy said. “She started Gamma Rho. If she saw a need, she just did it. She didn’t ever stop and think about, ‘Oh, could I do this?’ or ‘Would this work?’ If she was convinced, she would go for it, whatever it was.”

The reception and dedication of the Donna Winkler Smith Endowment for Student Success will take place Nov. 3, at 2 p.m. in the the Student Success Center on the second floor of the Mabee Learning Center/Beam Library.

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