'Insuring' Future Student SuccessPosted Apr. 12, 2011
Anyone hoping to get a few minutes with Kent State University President Lester A. Lefton knows they have to make it past the ultimate gatekeeper — his assistant, Debra Drake, ’08.
In just five years with the university, the personable Drake with the contagious laugh has experienced it from nearly every angle: parent, staff member, student, alumna and donor. She began working in the Office of Diversity before moving to the president’s suite. She watched her daughter graduate from the nursing program, while her son enrolled in the computer technology program. And in 2008, she completed her own bachelor’s degree.
“I guess my first love of Kent State came when my daughter decided to go here. Honestly, my imagery of Kent State had always been from when I was a little girl, of May 4,” she says. “So when my daughter said she wanted to go here, I said I’d rather you not because that was my only image.”
In time, that fear vanished — first, when activist and speaker Tom Hayden took her on a tour of the May 4 site in 2007, and later, during the 40th commemoration last year.
“We paid real attention to the wounded students and the families,” Drake says. “I think it just gave me a greater appreciation for what Kent State stands for. We’ve been fair, and inclusive, and understanding — which is kind of what Kent State is generally.”
Education is important to the two men she calls father figures in her life: her father, who was a minister, and Lefton. When Drake was in school, both men demanded she excel — and both wanted to see her grades.
Upon examining her grades, “the president said, ‘Good, I’m proud of you,’” she says. “When I finished my degree, I could tell he was proud of me because it was not only something I wanted to do; it was something I needed to do.”
Now, Drake is creating a permanent legacy by endowing four scholarships through a gift of life insurance.
When Drake became a widowed mother of two, she ensured her children would be taken care of through insurance in the event of her death. Now that they’re older, those policies are the foundation for her significant gift to four scholarship funds.
The first is a scholarship for nontraditional students in honor of her grandmother, who completed her mass-communication degree at the University of Akron when she was 72 years old, taking courses one at a time while working as a beautician and real estate broker.
“She just turned 90 in December,” Drake says. “I gave her this scholarship; she didn’t know what to say. I told her I wanted to give her the scholarship because she’s such an inspiration.”
Another scholarship provides emergency funds for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and honors a friend of Drake’s who passed away.
The third scholarship honors her children, while the fourth is named for her parents and provides last-dollar support for students who have run out of other financial options.
“I want the scholarship for my parents to be meaningful,” she says. “It’s nice to know that no matter what I need, they’ll always be there for me, just as this last-dollar scholarship will be there for future students.”
President Lefton offers high praise for his assistant’s generosity.
“Debra was a quintessential Kent State student — going to school, working full time, committed to family, and embodying a strong work ethic that is exceeded by no one,” he says. “What a great legacy to leave in honor of her grandmother, parents and children. Debra is the best.”
This story originally appeared in the summer 2011 issue of the Kent State Magazine.