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John Sanford, News Service (650) 736-2151; e-mail:

Endowment for French studies approaches $100,000, thanks to gifts

What began as a project to collect $20,000 for an endowment fund in honor of a longtime French professor has resulted, to date, in raising nearly five times that sum.

With the help of matching money, Stanford graduates and faculty have contributed close to $100,000 to the Ralph M. Hester Endowment Fund for French Studies. The fund-raising projected was launched on Bastille Day in July of this year, organizers said.

That is the largest amount of gift money ever collected for an endowment benefiting students in courses held through the French and Italian Department, said the fund's namesake, Professor Emeritus Ralph Hester, who has taught French at Stanford for 37 years.

The "pay-out" money from the endowment will be used, at least initially, to sponsor two annual $1,000 writing awards -- the Ralph M. Hester Prize and the Laurence C. Franklin Prize -- to undergraduates who submit outstanding papers in French. Remaining money from the fund will help both undergraduates and graduates in French pursue research or internships.

Laurence Franklin, who graduated from Stanford in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in French, established the endowment. As an undergraduate, Franklin studied in Tours, France, during the 1969-70 academic year, when Hester was the director of an overseas studies program there.

Franklin, who lives and works in Hong Kong, said several factors contributed to his decision to start the endowment and name it after a former professor, whom he met again last spring after a period of nearly 30 years.

"First, the year 2000 is my 30th undergraduate reunion. Rather than simply make a nonspecific gift to the Stanford Fund, I wanted to direct my gift where I thought it would be the most useful. I . . . eventually settled on the Department of French and Italian because I had been a French major in my undergraduate years," he said.

Franklin also said he was inspired by the success of a fund-raising campaign he initiated in 1999 for a new Stanford director of bands. He named that endowment after Arthur P. Barnes, who served as the university's band director for 34 years. More than 650 donors have given to the endowment, which now has more than $2 million, he said.

"This success gave me the idea to name the [Hester] endowment after one of my favorite professors," he said.

In addition, Franklin, who holds a master's degree in business administration and a doctorate in law from Stanford, said that as an adjunct associate professor of finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where he teaches part time, he appreciates "more fully, and on a weekly basis, what kind of effort it takes on a consistent basis to be a truly outstanding teacher."

"Ralph Hester deserves recognition for his excellence as a teacher, as well as his outstanding contribution to the department over a very long period of time," Franklin said.

Franklin put up $10,000 of his own money in matching funds to encourage contributions, said Sterling Franklin, his brother and a Southern California lawyer. In addition, the Morris S. Smith Foundation has contributed and pledged $40,000 in matching money, said Sterling Franklin, who is a trustee of the foundation along with their father, Carl Franklin.

More than 110 people, including nine major donors and many former Stanford students who studied French, have contributed to the fund so far, Sterling Franklin said.

Jeffrey Schnapp, the Rosina Pierotti Professor of Italian Literature and chairman of the French and Italian Department, praised Hester for his role in developing the French program at Stanford, and described the fund as an "important initiative."

"I certainly view it as an important building block in the larger strengthening of French studies in the university," said Schnapp, who has helped to lead the fund-raising campaign.

Hester said he was thrilled that the endowment has grown so large.

"It's personally rewarding, and it's rewarding in the larger sense that you think you're contributing to education," said Hester, who plans to retire at the end of the academic year. "It certainly enables us to make a very attractive award for students."

Hester, 68, earned his doctorate in Romance languages and literatures from the University of California-Los Angeles. He joined Stanford's faculty in 1963.

He launched the Interdisciplinary Institute of French Studies, of which he is currently the director, after seeing how French programs at Stanford and nationwide were faced with dwindling student interest.

"There was a feeling we needed to update interest in French," he said.

One of the main ideas behind the institute, which offered its first classes in 1995, was to teach courses in French that were focused on subjects other than Francophone literature and culture. Hence, students with interests in the international aspects of, say, economics, technology or business could have an outlet to improve their language skills while taking a course in a discipline they someday would want to practice abroad. For example, communication specialists from France Telecom and visiting scholars in engineering have taught courses.

Hester has served twice as chair of the French and Italian Department -- once from 1979 to 1982 and again from 1993 to 1998 -- and also co-wrote Découverte et création, les Bases du français moderne, which became the most widely used textbook for teaching French in the United States.

In 1982, the French government awarded him the "Palmes académiques" for his "contribution to French culture."

For more information about the Ralph M. Hester Endowment Fund for French Studies, call Kellie Smith in the Department of French and Italian at (650) 725-9225. The deadline to have donations matched (more than $20,000 in matching funds remains) is Dec. 31, Sterling Franklin said. Donors can send their checks, made out to "Stanford University-Hester Fund," to Professor Jeffrey Schnapp, chair of the Department of French and Italian, Pigott Hall, Room 122, Stanford, CA 94305-2010.


By John Sanford

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