It took two years for Ed Warner to finally say it out loud.
The Warner College of Natural Resources.
“I was embarrassed, quite frankly,” said the man for whom the college is named.
Which is pretty remarkable when you consider that it was Warner himself who provided the $30 million to rename Colorado State University’s renowned natural resources college that changed the trajectory of the entire university. This wasn’t simply a gift. This was an image-shattering wakeup call to the world that is still resonating years later.
Consider this: When Warner announced his unprecedented gift in 2005, it was not only the largest in the university’s history, it also kicked off the public phase of CSU’s first-ever comprehensive campaign. The goal was to raise $500 million – most people thought the folks in Ram Land had lost their minds – and here they were, reeling in nearly 6% of the goal in one stunning announcement.
Warner’s generosity kickstarted a successful campaign ($537 million was raised) that proved CSU was no longer a sleepy little land-grant school in Fort Collins, and opened the door to a world of possibilities. Fifteen years later, as CSU’s celebrates its 150th birthday, a second campaign – the State Your Purpose: Campaign for Colorado State University – has already exceeded its $1 billion goal.
“Ed’s gift to our college was transformational not only for our programs, but also for the university as a whole, as it was a significant catalyst for advancement at CSU,” said John Hayes, dean of Warner College. “We are proud to bear the distinction his gift has brought our programs and do our best every day to honor his generosity by making equally tremendous impacts in our natural resources education, research and service.”
“Ed’s gift to our college was transformational not only for our programs, but also for the university as a whole, as it was a significant catalyst for advancement at CSU.”
— John Hayes, dean of Warner College.
Education unlocked a geological puzzle
Warner, who graduated from CSU in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in geology, used his education to solve a puzzle In Middle of Nowhere, Wyoming, and one day realized he was going to be rich. Among the first investments he wanted to make was in the university that changed his life.
“When things were going bad, I used to introduce myself as a struggling, self-unemployed geologist,” Warner said with a laugh. “All of our lives before that we (he and wife Jackie Erickson) used to shop at the second-hand stores, and we were very happy.”
It was Warner who figured out a practical way to extract the rich deposits of natural gas from one of the largest discoveries in North America at the time, and his investment in some wells in an area that later came to be known as the Jonah Field hit paydirt.
“I saw what was happening, and I knew that we were going to be rich beyond our imagination,” he said. “I married a pretty amazing woman, and so I asked her if she wanted a Mercedes. She said, ‘I’ve got a perfectly good Toyota Tercel. Why would I want a Mercedes?’
“I was very fortunate to marry the right person.”
Warner first approached CSU in 1998, looking for ways to help. His beloved geology program was a mere shell of its former self and had but eight faculty members. Other programs were struggling and needed a boost.
Warner started working with Joyce Berry, college dean at the time, on a plan. Eventually Berry convinced Warner that he could not only provide a huge boost to geology, he could elevate the entire college.
Continuing presence on campus
Warner, 74, has long since retired, but he and Jackie remain familiar faces on campus.
Jackie, an artist and musician, established the Dame Jackie Marching Band Scholarship program in 2012 that has helped hundreds of students and significantly boosted the marching band’s membership. Ed was thrilled in 2016 when a fellow alumnus, Michael Smith, provided funding to put a jaw-dropping, state-of-the-art facelift on the college’s main building in the heart of campus.
And just recently he secured the talents of good friend Frank Boring, a veteran filmmaker, to put together a documentary celebrating CSU’s first 150 years.
Warner lectures frequently, talking about the power of philanthropy and citing his own rags-to-riches tale. He’s a dedicated conservationist and has written books and papers about his passions.
“I saw a tendency in people who come into money to drink the Kool-Aid, believing their money makes them better than others,” he said. “I don’t have a Ph.D. in philanthropy but I know that wealth is meant to be shared. I tell people to follow their passion and do some good.”
“I don’t have a Ph.D. in philanthropy but I know that wealth is meant to be shared. I tell people to follow their passion and do some good.”
— Ed Warner
Today he looks back at his gift and sees its impact. CSU is regularly ranked among the top places to study natural resources, and the college’s future is bright. He’s thrilled with the leadership provided by Hayes.
“I am desperately proud of the Warner College,” he said. “I tell people all the time what a great experience it is to be associated with this university, from the time I was an undergrad to today. There’s something magical about that place: a beautiful campus, beautiful students, dedicated faculty. It’s a great university, and I love it.”