Planned Giving Reinforces Alumna's Dedication to Community
"Teaching about community service in college is critical because, ultimately, it advances our humanity as much as the humanities," observed the recipient of Muhlenberg's 2020 Alumni Achievement Award.
Sarah Stegemoeller '75 clearly understands the importance and impact of community service. As the daughter of a Lutheran minister, she grew up in a household where her faith strongly motivated a sense of responsibility, of giving back and serving the needs of her community.
In 2020, she reaffirmed her commitment to community service by pledging her support for Muhlenberg's Institute for Integrative Learning with a planned gift of $125,000. Programming at the Institute will incorporate integrative learning into the overall college experience by teaching students how to intentionally pair different perspectives and by expanding learning beyond the laboratory or classroom.
As a Muhlenberg College student, Sarah lived the concept of integrative learning before it was part of a defined program. A part-time work study job at the Muhlenberg campus dining hall collecting and cleaning dishes after meals introduced her to a world beyond academia and a larger context for her classroom experience. It connected her with hard working women and men, most lifelong residents of Allentown, who welcomed her into their homes and integrated the community into her everyday life.
The Institute will consolidate student and faculty community based learning, research and scholarship activities within an administrative structure. "Having the infrastructure for community service programs, and to have seed money for initiatives in this area, is where my gifts are going," she said.
Sarah said that implementing the planned gift was a simple process of adding Muhlenberg as a beneficiary to one of her retirement accounts. She and her husband, Mark, previously established the Stegemoeller Endowment for Community Service and Civic Engagement, consistent with their philanthropic philosophy of linking their gifts to teaching Muhlenberg students how to be involved in their communities.
"The funding goes to Muhlenberg's Community Engagement office for staffing and programs, which are necessary to connect a student with service opportunities," she said.
Sarah devoted her career as an attorney to community service, and has dedicated gifts to Muhlenberg to support programs that make a college education and community service part of a full liberal arts education. "Teaching about community service in college is critical because, ultimately, it advances our humanity as much as the humanities," observed the recipient of Muhlenberg's 2020 Alumni Achievement Award.
After receiving her degree in political science, Sarah graduated from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law in 1978 and from DePaul University in 1984 with a Master of Laws in Taxation.
She joined Defrees & Fiske, a small law firm in Chicago where she became a partner and specialized in corporate tax law, working with nonprofits and staying involved in the community. In 1994, her strong ties to the Lutheran church drew her to a new role at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. There, as the school's first executive vice president, she had oversight of the non-academic functions of a graduate school of theology.
In 2002, Sarah's legal career took her to Los Angeles and Public Counsel, one of the largest nonprofit, pro bono legal organizations in the country. As senior staff attorney in community development, she provided free legal services to any nonprofit that served people struggling with poverty in Los Angeles. She retired in 2017 after 15 years working at public counsel.
She and Mark, also an attorney and the child of a Lutheran minister, made an intentional choice when they married to be philanthropic and to support the church, social service organizations, hunger programs and food banks, international rescue programs, programs for women at risk and the colleges and the educational institutions, like Muhlenberg, that molded their life paths.
As a Muhlenberg student, Sarah benefited from financial, spiritual and academic offerings. "I was very cognizant of people and institutions who made a choice to support people like me and to making sure we were part of a college community."
Living in California puts a significant distance between Sarah and her alma mater but, in the wake of the pandemic, she found other avenues to connect with Muhlenberg like live music performances via Zoom and educational podcasts with professors. "That [Candlelight Choir] December service was so special when it was broadcast this year. It was stunning. So, I expect to connect to the school in ways that I had never imagined before," she said.
A member of the Lifetime Giving Society, the Loyalty Society, her Class Reunion Committee, HMMS and now the Circle of 1848, Sarah created a footprint of support for her alma mater true to her heartfelt drive to make sure that community engagement is part of the College community.
Sarah's endowment and recent pledge are motivated by the practice of "going outside of yourself and volunteering or learning" about the place in which you are working and going to school. "There is just so much learning that can be absorbed from a book. Students need to get out where the people are and apply what they have learned," she said.
Planned giving is a simple and important way of ensuring that the areas of care and concern that Sarah has had her whole life continue to be supported in the future. "It's very easy to make a beneficiary in a retirement plan," she said. "Our legacy is combined with the legacies of many that have come before us, and we want to make sure that we honor that responsibility."