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Late MSUM professor donates $800,000 to school for scholarships

MOORHEAD - Future Minnesota State University Moorhead students will benefit from an $800,000 donation from Professor Emeritus Charles Magel, who died in March at 93 and left the sum to the university to be used solely for scholarships.

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Charles Magel
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MOORHEAD – Future Minnesota State University Moorhead students will benefit from an $800,000 donation from Professor Emeritus Charles Magel, who died in March at 93 and left the sum to the university to be used solely for scholarships.

The size of the gift makes it the university’s second-largest scholarship endowment.

Magel founded MSUM’s philosophy department in 1962 and taught for 23 years.

The professor was known for his clear lectures to students – he was an early user of the projector, a tool used mostly in business at the time – and his support of MSUM’s Livingston Lord Library, which went from having 72,801 to 378,000 books after Magel took 14 months of vacation to work on boosting the library’s offerings.

“He really wanted to make a difference in the lives of students,” said Jenni Walthall, director of development for the alumni foundation, who worked with Magel on the endowment.

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Magel was also known for applying ethics to the treatment of animals, a passion he discovered later in his career after being inspired by Peter Singer, the well-known Princeton professor of philosophy who has written extensively on animal rights. In the early 1980s, he applied his ethical theory to his own life and became a vegetarian.

“He lived his philosophy,” said Randy Cagle, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Cagle, who taught philosophy at MSUM before becoming dean, said Magel was a pioneer of applied ethics, a field that has now become more popular in academia. MSUM general education requirements now require that students take a class in applied ethics.

“Charlie was really at the forefront of applied ethics in general,” Cagle said. “His impact continues to be felt.”

Magel, who had no spouse or children, instead developed a network of friendships with former students and their spouses, said Sam Wai, a 1979 MSUM graduate in philosophy and finance. Wai took Magel’s classes and worked as his teaching assistant, the beginning of a 40-year friendship.

“His style of teaching was innovative,” Wai said. “He had a great appreciation for what people may or may not understand, which is a very important gift for a teacher.”

Wai, treasurer at American Crystal Sugar in Moorhead, is the executor of Magel’s estate and worked with MSUM on the endowment, ensuring that it went to student scholarships and not to administrators.

“From time to time [Magel] assisted students in need and took care of them and helped them with tuition,” Wai said. “His direction to me has always been the money would go to scholarships and really only scholarships.”

Roughly 5 percent of the endowment’s value – $40,000 – will be awarded in scholarships each year, said Laura Huth, vice president of the alumni foundation. Last year, 526 scholarships totaling $753,705 were awarded by the alumni foundation.

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The size of Magel’s donation was thanks to his business savvy and a lifetime of smart investing, Wai said. Magel earned a business administration degree from Northwestern in 1942 and had a knack for buying and selling real estate.

After serving as a lieutenant commander in the Navy during World War II, he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Minnesota before joining MSUM. He retired in 1985.

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