$2M Trust Gift Creates Opportunities for Med School Students
Gift from Douglas and Phyllis Swartz continues community-funded growth of TTUHSC El Paso.
Doug Swartz loved his adopted hometown of El Paso.
And even though he had no strong ties to Texas Tech — he knew if a proposed medical school came to El Paso under the scarlet-and-black banner, it would be great for the city that gave him a great life.
So while working on his estate a number of years ago, he made plans to make a gift from his trust to establish the Douglas E. Swartz and Phyllis A. Swartz Endowment, benefiting the long-promised school of medicine at El Paso.
His action came a few years after John T. Montford — the Texas Tech University System’s first chancellor — announced plans to create a four-year medical school in El Paso as part of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
Third- and fourth-year TTUHSC medical students had been in El Paso since 1973.
But Swartz’s decision also came a few years before El Paso businessman Paul L. Foster donated $50 million to fund a four-year medical school — the first of its kind along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“He asked us what we thought and we said yes — if it happens,” said Steve Lauterbach, Swartz’s CPA, recalling his reaction.
Lawyer Steve Tredennick, who was serving as trustee at the time agreed. They would wait to see if Texas Tech’s action matched its ambition.
If the medical school did not happen, the money would go to various charities.
In the intervening years, the Texas Tech system’s efforts in the border region outpaced expectation. Because of the support and investment of the community, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso flourished and has become both a critical partner in patient care and a driver of economic development for the region.
The success was everything Swartz and his advisers had hoped.
Swartz passed away in 2009.
Lauterbach eventually became the estate’s trustee, and after Swartz’s wife Phyllis passed away last year, Lauterbach finalized the trust and made two distributions to Texas Tech totaling $2 million.
The Foster School of Medicine was very appreciative — and very surprised.
“No one knew about this until Phyllis passed away,” said Dr. Richard Lange, president of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and dean of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine.
“Donors who give through wills and trusts are forward-thinking problem solvers.”
And it’s the kind of gift people make when they want to make a lasting impact, according to Nathan Rice, director of gift planning for the Texas Tech system.
“Donors who give through wills and trusts are forward-thinking problem solvers. They know the causes they want to support, and they put their generosity in the hands of others to carry out their philanthropic goals. For many, this is the largest gift they will ever make, and it can have a dramatic impact on the charity and everyone it touches,” Rice said.
Supporting rural medicine by keeping costs down
Lange said the school has “broad latitude,” on what they can do with the funds, which can be used to support programs, research, building construction and operations.
Both Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, headquartered in Lubbock, are in the bottom ten percent of student debt across the nation, said Lange.
“About a fourth of the medical school students have substantial scholarships,” said Lange. “It’s a huge impetus for us to keep costs down to have students graduate with as little debt as possible.”
Texas Tech wants to keep tuition low and provide scholarships so that graduates of the Foster School of Medicine don’t have massive student loans and can afford to work in underserved areas, like the border region and rural West Texas.
“About 30 percent of students come from border counties, and we want them to return there — if they want — with no or minimal debt to serve underserved areas,” Lange added.
The Swartz gift is the latest example of El Pasoans stepping up to support Texas Tech through philanthropy.
Lange said TTUHSC El Paso has seen more than $100 million donated over the last 10-15 years to help serve this “underserved and undersourced region.”
There was Foster’s $50 million gift.
Then there was a $10 million gift to create the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing and a $25 million gift to create the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine — both from the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation.
Lange said this support helps and allows them to fund things they cannot use state funds for such as expanding into new areas of study, as was the case with the Foster and Hunt gifts.
“The importance of the community in getting the medical school, nursing school and grad school off the ground is individuals saw the need and invested,” Lange said.
One of ‘the Greatest’
Swartz came to El Paso’s Fort Bliss from Connecticut when he was still in his teens.
He fought in World War II and took part in the D-Day invasion of Europe.
“He was one of those Greatest Generation guys,” Lauterbach said.
After working many years for El Paso Natural Gas, he started a supply company selling to the oil and gas and mining industries in the western part of the United States.
“He adopted El Paso and made a real success.”
He and his first wife — Burby — built a successful company, said Lauterbach.
When his first wife died of cancer, Swartz sold the company and eventually remarried.
He never had kids.
As he was setting up his estate, he wanted to provide for his wife and make an impact on his community.
“He adopted El Paso and made a real success. He had no money when he got here,” said Lauterbach.
He was not, though, looking for attention.
“He was an under-the-radar guy,” Lauterbach said.