WEDU to hire staff, create new TV series with $4M gift

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At last week’s presentation ceremony, WEDU President Susan Howarth, at podium, and WEDU Board Chair Cathy Unruh accept the $4 million bequest from John Slaughter, donor Phyllis Ensign’s attorney. (Photo: WEDU)

WEDU-TV in Tampa, Fla., has received the largest gift in its 57-year history, a $4 million bequest from a longtime viewer and avid investor.

Phyllis Ensign was a secretary in the mid-1940s at a Washington, D.C., law firm when she began investing in the stock market — sometimes using her entire paycheck, according to a press release from WEDU.

One of her early investments was a stock purchase in Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, which became Mobil.

Ensign later moved to Clearwater, Fla., and began watching WEDU “almost exclusively,” according to friends. She especially enjoyed Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser. Ensign took part in five “Financial Seminars at Sea,” cruises during which Rukeyser and other financial gurus spoke.

Ensign often recounted those trips to her friends. She was especially proud that Rukeyser once referred to her as “the smartest woman at the table” for holding onto stocks during a market turndown when everyone else was selling.

The funds will be placed in the WEDU Endowment. During a bequest presentation Nov. 5, WEDU Board Chair Cathy Unruh outlined how the money will be used. The station will:

  • Add several new staff positions in education and development;
  • Create a paid student internship program for its local program Suncoast Business Forum;
  • Hire a staffer and purchase equipment to transfer thousands of hours of video archives to digital;
  • Donate a multimedia corner to at least 16 public libraries with books, computers, “kid-friendly seating” and resources for library staff to develop educational activities; and
  • Produce new local programming.

“We are deeply honored by Mrs. Ensign’s gift and hope that it will encourage other donors to remember WEDU in their wills,” said Susan Howarth, WEDU president, at last week’s event.

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