A Good Use for a Million Dollars

March, 2005

by Angela Matthews

John'85 and Carrie Morgridge. Photo courtesy of the Morgridges.

John'85 and Carrie Morgridge. Photo courtesy of the Morgridges.

It takes teamwork to make a marriage. Just ask John ’85 and Carrie Morgridge. From workday to family life John and Carrie do all of it together, without traditional gender roles and stereotypes getting in the way.

“We’re a good combination. We tend to split the work according to our skills. I’m good at carpentry and landscaping, and she has a great eye for interior design,” John says. Together the Morgridges operate a small but successful real estate business. They buy, rehabilitate and re-sell properties as well as purchasing land to build from the foundation up. “We tackle four rehabs a year and one complete construction project, doing as much of the work as possible ourselves, including the demolition part.” Carrie and John are on the job eight to 10 hours a day, subbing out only the most complicated work to contractors.

On top of that, Carrie is in the final weeks of earning her degree in interior design from the International School of Design, taking courses at campuses in both Orlando and Miami. “When she’s on the Miami campus, I’m Mr. Mom,” says John. “It’s just too far and dangerous for Carrie to be commuting 80 miles at night after a full day of classes. On those overnights I manage the drill with our children, Michelle and John—dinner, homework, workout at the Y. It’s a full life. We’re very busy.”

Carrie’s studies have become a source of inspiration and example. She maintains a solid 4.0 GPA and the design boards she creates as part of her assignments have become the standard of excellence for John and Michelle in completing their own school projects and homework assignments. “Our children can see what is achieved through hard work, and they recognize Carrie’s deep respect for education,” says John. “I tell John and Michelle that a lot of their education is learning how to learn, where to find the information they need, developing a sense of commitment, and maturing in their ability to be responsible.”

The Morgridge family shares a commitment to education and its importance in the lives not just of their children, but for the larger community as well. “My mother is a career elementary teacher. My father places high value on education, to the point that our family philanthropy centers on education divided 50/50 between the K-12 years and higher education,” says John. “Give someone that gift of education and they blossom on their own. They can go as far as they want to take themselves.” The Morgridges have cultivated many blossoms over the years, investing in new buildings on college campuses, reading programs in elementary schools, scholarships, a new charter school with a 40 percent minority population and other education initiatives. Their grants have invigorated community pride and fostered exuberance in young people and a sense of opportunity about their future.

Another passion John and Carrie share is the Iron Man Tri-Athlon. It all started with a 67-year-old family friend, Elliott, who qualified for Iron Man a few years ago and has since competed in seven Iron Man world championships. In 2001, the Iron Man world championship was the first sports event to be televised after 9/11. Carrie and John went to Hawaii to cheer Elliott on, and were amazed at what they found. Among the competitors was a nun in her 80s who had competed for years. “We were inspired by how beautifully fit the competitors of all ages were,” says John. On their return home Carrie decided to compete in the Florida challenge and began her training regimen, taking six to seven hours a day to bike, swim and run. She finished strong in her age group with the family cheering at the finish line. John was next, entering the state competition the following year. Carrie’s father, after standing on the sidelines for John and Carrie, entered the competition in his home state of California, and the whole family was on hand to cheer him on. Their son, John, was next to take the gauntlet and trained with his mother to participate in Sprints, a scaled down version of Iron Man. “We’re active vacationers too. Hiking, surfing, kayaking. We like to get into the waves and on the mountains. We’re definitely not ‘sit-on-the-blanket’ types,” observes John. It is the outdoor life that is pulling them back to Colorado. “We miss our friends and we miss the mountains. Florida is nice but we have to get back to seasons and scenery.”

John came to Plymouth State to live in and enjoy the mountains, and his degree in business gave him the broad base to explore opportunities and open the door to his career. While a student at PSU John worked at a lumber company on Tenney Mountain Highway. Loon Mountain and Waterville Valley were both being developed during the 1980s, giving John an in-depth exposure to the business of construction, a perfect complement to classroom theory and a field experience to put his growing bank of knowledge into practice. John credits his Plymouth years for providing him with the tools both practical and theoretical to manage his own business. “Plymouth State opened opportunities for me. It’s my alma mater and something I want to support,” says John.

In December 2004, John and Carrie Morgridge confirmed with President Donald P. Wharton their intention to establish a $1 million endowment to provide scholarship support to Pell-eligible students—PSU’s neediest students—that will help them reduce their loan burden. Preference will be given to students who live in Coos, Belknap, Sullivan, Grafton and Carroll counties. At 262,000 people, the total population of these five rural counties is about one quarter of the population of the remaining five counties in the state, and their economic challenges are more complex. “We have mostly supported scholarship programs in higher education,” says John, “and programs that reach out to underserved populations.”

The Morgridge Family Opportunity Scholarship adds a much-needed resource in New Hampshire to address at least one challenge and expand the state’s population of young adults who will be prepared to meet the demands of living and working in a knowledge-based economy. “This extraordinary act of generosity will make a dramatic difference for many future PSU students who might otherwise not have the means to attend the University,” says President Wharton. John believes that scholarship is a safe area of giving. “Some people will give me a hard time for supporting certain programs, but I don’t think there are many who would say this is a poor use of a million dollars,” says John. “This is where my heart is and where I choose to put my scholarship dollars.”

The Morgridges were convinced that PSU was ready for the gift that would leverage opportunity for first-year students. John observed many positive changes and appreciated the focus on the first-year experience, changes to the general education requirements, and PSU being selected as a founding partner of the Foundations of Excellence project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Lumina Foundation. “I could see in our conversations and correspondence that Plymouth is doing the work with first-year students effectively and creatively,” says John. “I’m impressed with the emphasis on retention. The Morgridge Opportunity Scholarship will help with that because it will address financial barriers and will be renewable for all four years. I’m very happy to see some kids get a break like this.”

John and Carrie made their first gift to PSU in 2001 with a contribution to provide scholarship support to needy female students. That gift was followed by the Morgridge Family Endowment, which provides stipends to students completing internships. John and Carrie recognize the value of interning in employment settings related to one’s field, but they were concerned about the expense to the student. Internship stipends allow students to pay for the cost of transportation or housing, or to purchase clothing appropriate to the work environment. “I’m extremely fortunate to have parents who taught me the value of philanthropy,” says John. “It’s a gift to have the ability to give money away. While it’s good for others, more so, it’s good for yourself. You can get a lot of pleasure from giving.”

Their next gift to PSU was to the education department to fund outreach and communication that encourages high school students to consider careers in education. With each of these gifts, John and Carrie have followed their two rules of philanthropy: one, make sure the organization is worthy and will treat the gift accordingly; and two, that the organization will offer you information to show evidence of who they are and what they have accomplished with the gift. John explained that effective philanthropy takes a lot of time. In addition to identifying organizations, reviewing good projects and making the award, good philanthropy also involves follow-up and evaluation. “My parents and Carrie and I work very hard at being effective philanthropists,” says John.

Wherever they live, New Hampshire remains important. Some of every year is spent here, where John still feels like part of the community. “My parents have a place in Holderness and I like coming into Plymouth to do my shopping, to eat lunch, to visit the campus and just hang out. It still feels like home to me.”


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