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Milton and Ethel Ritchie

By setting up a charitable gift annuity, Ethel and Milt Ritchie, MS '75, realized two goals at the same time—enhancing their retirement security and supporting Stanford. Photo courtesy of Milt and Ethel Ritchie.

Charitable Gift Annuity Honors Stanford—and Its Pioneering Diversity

When Milton Ritchie first set foot on campus in 1936, he was an 8-year-old African-American boy from West Oakland attending a Stanford football game on a YMCA trip. Ritchie, MS '75, never could have guessed what a strong bond he would form with the university—or that he would choose to honor Stanford with a special gift some 70 years later.

The son of a postal worker and a housekeeper, Ritchie was raised during the Depression on the "wrong" side of town. But he excelled in school, and between 1946 and 1968, in addition to serving in the Army, he earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry from UC Berkeley and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Southern California. Ritchie went to work for the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, California. Throughout this period, he was one of the few African-Americans among his classmates and co-workers.

Ritchie's research work took him back to Stanford a number of times, where he was impressed by the university's emphasis on racial inclusion. One day, he learned that the daughter of one of his West Oakland neighbors was a Stanford student.

"It was obvious to me that increasing diversity was becoming a high priority for Stanford," Ritchie says.

Soon, nearly 40 years after his first visit to Stanford, Ritchie was on his way to campus as a graduate student, with a fellowship to study materials science and engineering. He brought his wife, Ethel, to Escondido Village. "I enjoyed the atmosphere," she recalls fondly. She volunteered at the hospital and began a lifelong passion with quilt making.

After earning his master's in 1975, Ritchie remained an active alumnus, giving to the School of Engineering and other programs and becoming a lifetime member of the Stanford Alumni Association. He joined Hughes Aircraft Company at its Santa Barbara research center, where his work focused on semiconductors in infrared devices.

In 1995, Ritchie's bond with Stanford deepened when he received a letter from a student working with the Stanford Black Community Services Center (BCSC) to ascertain who Stanford's first black graduate was. The question had been the topic of debate for many years.

A photo of the 1891 interclass football team revealed the answer. There, in the front row, sat Ernest Houston Johnson, a previously unknown African-American student. In the quest for more information, the BCSC researcher thought Ritchie might know a relative of Johnson's who had also attended Stanford in the mid-70s. Ritchie was intrigued, and after a few phone calls, he pieced together the biography of Stanford's first black graduate, a member of its pioneer class.

Ritchie felt a kinship with Johnson and, with the help of the BCSC, he led a campaign to restore Johnson's crumbling gravesite in Sacramento and honor the path he blazed at Stanford. Ritchie was also touched by Jane and Leland Stanford’s founding mission to "educate the children of California," an ideal that came to life in Johnson's story.

Inspired by what they had learned, Milt and Ethel Ritchie wrote another chapter in the story in 2005 with a generous gift to the university through a charitable gift annuity. A gift annuity is created when a donor transfers cash or securities to Stanford, in return for a fixed payment that continues each year for life, no matter how long the designated annuitant(s) may live. The donor benefits from a substantial income tax deduction and, if appreciated securities are contributed, will both minimize and defer capital gains tax that would otherwise apply at the time the asset is sold. When the annuitant dies, the remaining principal becomes a gift to the university.

The Ritchies appreciate the enhanced security their gift annuity provides: They can count on receiving quarterly annuity payments from the university like clockwork and rest easy knowing that their annuity investment is backed by Stanford, which has a triple-A credit rating. In 2009, the couple moved from Sacramento to Medford, Oregon. "Now that we're living in a retirement community, the income from the gift annuity comes in especially handy," explains Ritchie. They also enjoy knowing they are supporting Stanford.

"We are not a family particularly well-endowed with money, so a charitable gift annuity was a reasonable way to include a gift for Stanford in the balance of our other retirement investments," says Ritchie.

Thanks to Milt Ritchie's research, Ernest Johnson was inducted into Stanford's Multicultural Hall of Fame, and his story has become a rich piece of university history. And with their gift in honor of the university's long-standing commitment to diversity, Milt and Ethel Ritchie have found a way to create their own legacy at Stanford.

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