Who Are the Billionaires Behind the Historic $100M Spelman College Donation?

Philanthropists Ronda Stryker and William Johnston have previously supported Harvard and Western Michigan University.

Brick entrance to university
The bulk of the gift will support endowed scholarships at Spelman College. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Spelman College, a private women’s college in Atlanta, is set to receive a historic $100 million donation from a billionaire couple.

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The gift is not only the largest in Spelman’s 143-year history but also the largest single donation ever given to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). “We are invigorated and inspired by this incredible act of generosity,” said Dr. Helene Gayle, president of Spelman College, in a statement. “This gift is a critical step in our school’s mission to eliminate financial barriers to starting and finishing a Spelman education.”

As announced yesterday (Jan. 18), $75 million of the total donation will go toward endowed scholarships for future Spelman students. The remaining $25 million will fund initiatives such as student housing improvements, an academic focus on public policy and democracy and funding for critical college needs.

Who are Ronda Stryker and William Johnston?

The donation comes from Ronda Stryker and William Johnston, a philanthropic couple based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Stryker is a businesswoman and member of Harvard Medical School’s board of fellows, and she has an estimated net worth of $7.4 billion. She is also the granddaughter of Homer Stryker, an orthopedic surgeon who founded medical equipment manufacturer Stryker Corporation and was known for medical inventions including a cast cutter, walking casts made of rubber and a turning bed for immobilized patients.

Johnston is the chairman of money management firm Greenleaf Trust. He is also a trustee of the Western Michigan Foundation and Genevieve and Donald Gilmore Foundation and serves on the board of directors for institutions like the Southwest Michigan First Economic Development Corporation and the Bronson Healthcare Group.

Man and woman dressed in suit and navy dress
This isn’t William Johnston and Ronda Stryker’s first financial contribution to Spelman. Courtesy Spelman College

In 1995, the couple founded the Stryker Johnston Foundation with a focus on ending intergenerational poverty in Kalamazoo County. Their private family foundation gave out more than $132 million in 2021 and 2022, according to tax filings.

Much of their philanthropy has centered upon local organizations—in 2019, the couple gave $57.7 million to Kalamazoo’s Foundation for Excellence, an initiative focused on addressing systemic challenges in the area. They have also given millions to the city’s public library and its branch of the Boys & Girls Club.

Stryker and Johnston have additionally been significant patrons of educational institutions. In 2011 they donated more than $100 million to create a new medical school at Western Michigan University, followed by a $20 million pledge in 2016 to Harvard’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. They have also previously supported Spelman College through a $30 million donation in 2018 and the creation of a $2 million matching fund in 2020.

The couple’s most recent gift to Spelman College, which coincides with the school’s 100th anniversary of its official naming, is not the only major donation received by HBCUs this month. On Jan. 11, the United Negro College Fund received $100 million from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc, to be funneled toward a pooled endowment for thirty-seven HBCUs.

“I feel strongly that education can be both powerful and transformational, especially for women,” said Stryker, who has been a trustee of Spelman College since 1997, in a statement. “I have seen first-hand the enormous impact financial investment has generated for Spelman’s highly talented students. It’s important to me that all women be provided an opportunity to explore their talents, challenge their self-doubts and realize the power of achieving individual success.”

Who Are the Billionaires Behind the Historic $100M Spelman College Donation?