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Combe Gift Boosts Momentum for Athletics and Kellogg

$16 million gift supports leadership in athletics, social entrepreneurship at Kellogg

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A $16 million gift from Northwestern University alumnus and trustee Christopher Combe and his wife, Courtney Combe, will strongly boost the momentum of Northwestern athletics and help secure sustained leadership of the department. The Combes’ gift also will be used to enhance the Kellogg School of Management’s focus on social entrepreneurship and sustainable solutions to global problems. 

The Combes’ gift will be divided in the following ways:

  • $10 million will endow the vice president position in the department of athletics and recreation, ensuring the department’s long-term stability and providing funds for the vice president to seed important projects and address new opportunities. In recognition of the gift, the position will be named in honor of Chris and Courtney Combe.
  • $5 million will endow the new Combe Family Impact Scholars Program at Kellogg, allowing an elite group of Kellogg students to learn how they can change our world positively through the application of business practices. The program, part of the Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, will offer intensive academic and experiential learning opportunities and enable the scholars to create and engage in high-impact social entrepreneurial ventures that reflect their vision for developing sustainable solutions to global societal and environmental challenges.
  • $1 million will endow the Combe Family Impact Award at Kellogg, a highly selective award inspired by alumnus and One Acre Fund cofounder Andrew Youn (’06). The award provides Kellogg students with grants to launch promising ventures in social entrepreneurship -- seed funding that can make all the difference in enabling young businesses to thrive.

“Chris and Courtney Combe are an integral part of the Northwestern family and have given generously to the University over the years,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said. “This visionary gift demonstrates their appreciation for Northwestern athletics at a very exciting time in its history, as well as their strong belief in what Kellogg can do to address and solve world issues.”

Northwestern athletics has been on a roll, including a landmark win at the 2013 Gator Bowl, national and Big Ten championships, rising attendance for games and a ranking of 16 in the AP Top 25 NCAA football poll.

The department of athletics and recreation encompasses 19 varsity sports and nearly 500 student-athletes, and it includes 34 club sports with 994 participants. In addition, 600 teams compete each year in a variety of intramural sports. Since the Wildcats’ Rose Bowl appearance in 1995, Northwestern athletics teams have had 49 conference players of the year, 34 conference rookies of the year and 35 conference coaches of the year. Thirty-six teams have been crowned with a conference championship, Wildcats have combined to win 80 individual conference titles and 816 have received All-Conference recognition. 

Northwestern’s student-athletes also succeed off the playing field. Since 1995, 2,147 student-athletes have received Academic All-Big Ten honors, including more than 200 in each of the last three years. In June, a school-record 14 of Northwestern’s 19 varsity athletic programs received Public Recognition Awards as part of the NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) program, ranking the University third nationally in honors per sport offered. In the 2012-13 academic year, every Wildcat student-athlete took time to give back to the Evanston and Chicago communities, with the group totaling more than 5,000 hours of service for the fourth consecutive year.

“Chris and Courtney personify what Northwestern is all about,” said Jim Phillips, vice president for athletics and recreation.

“They understand the emphasis Northwestern places on providing a world-class experience for our student-athletes -- academically, socially and athletically,” he said. “We are extremely grateful for this extraordinary gift and for Chris and Courtney’s commitment to the long-term success of our athletics programs. I am honored and humbled to serve as the Chris and Courtney Combe Vice President for Athletics and Recreation.” 

The Combes also have a strong interest in applying entrepreneurship to help solve critical world issues. That interest is reflected in their support of Kellogg’s work in developing socially responsible leaders.

“Chris and Courtney have shown an extraordinary commitment to providing entrepreneurial opportunities for students to effect positive change. Their vision aligns perfectly with Kellogg’s commitment to developing future leaders focused on solving global problems,” said Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School. “We are deeply grateful for their belief in Kellogg and our students.”  

Mr. Combe is chairman and CEO of Combe Incorporated, a White Plains, N.Y.-based private, family-held company. Founded in 1949, Combe Incorporated manufactures and markets health and personal care products including Just For Men® haircolor products, Vagisil® feminine care products, Sea-Bond® denture products and Brylcreem®, Aqua Velva® and Lectric Shave® men’s personal grooming products.

Mr. Combe received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern in 1970. He has been a member of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees since 1997 and of the University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors since 1981. Mr. Combe also has been director of Northwestern’s Alumni Admissions Council for Westchester County, N.Y., since 1975 and served on his class reunion committees.

Since 1987, Mrs. Combe has been a member of the Women’s Board of Northwestern. Ivan D. Combe, Mr. Combe’s father and the founder of Combe Incorporated, received undergraduate and law degrees from Northwestern and was a member of the first Northwestern men’s tennis team to win the Big 10 championship. A number of other members of the Combe family also are Northwestern graduates.

A steadfast supporter of Northwestern through the years, Mr. Combe made his first gift to Northwestern, an annual fund contribution of $100, in 1975. Since then, the Combe family has made significant gifts in support of numerous areas of the University, establishing the Ivan D. Combe Family Endowed Fund for Excellence in Business Programs, the Combe Family Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach and the Combe Family Endowed Scholarship Fund for varsity tennis players. Additional gifts to Northwestern athletics have named the University’s indoor tennis center, as well as a main scoreboard, six individual scoreboards and six sets of bleachers at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center.

Through their latest gift, Chris and Courtney Combe are enabling more students to pursue positive change. “As cofounder of the One Acre Fund, Andrew Youn has addressed a real global need and affected tens of thousands of families,” Mr. Combe said. “His contributions are a reflection of the opportunistic and innovative education provided by Kellogg.”

One Acre Fund’s work in helping small-scale and subsistence farmers in Africa thrive is chronicled in Roger Thurow’s book “The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change.” Chosen as the 2013-14 selection for One Book One Northwestern, the book will be widely read and studied at Northwestern this school year.

To see the project firsthand, the Combes recently visited the One Acre Fund in Kenya.

“We are inspired by the work of the One Acre Fund, and we are honored to support Kellogg’s efforts in developing the entrepreneurial spirit and talents of Northwestern students,” Mr. Combe said. “We believe Kellogg provides the know-how to empower these students to solve real problems that ultimately affect all of us.

“We also are honored to support the department of athletics and recreation, and we share the value Northwestern places on educating student-athletes in the classroom as well as on the athletic field.” 

The Combes’ gift comes at a time of exceptional fundraising success at Northwestern during the last year, highlighted by President Schapiro’s announcement prior to the Gator Bowl victory of an unprecedented series of gifts to athletics and recreation. And on Aug. 6, Kellogg Dean Sally Blount announced a transformative gift to Kellogg -- totaling $17 million -- from the estate of Helen Russell and James Russell, a 1935 graduate of Northwestern. 

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