Hoping to create an endowment of $300,000, dozens of members of the LSU Law Class of 1978 have responded to a challenge from two of their classmates by collectively raising $100,000. Forty years after they graduated, they established just the second law endowed scholarship named in honor of a graduating class.
“It really speaks well of the values and character LSU Law instilled in our class, which had a lot of camaraderie and was full of talented people who went on to be highly regarded and very successful in the legal community,” says Warren Byrd, deputy commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Insurance and a Class of 1978 Scholarship Committee member. “I’m just very proud of my class. We rose to another challenge and shined yet again.”
The challenge began with a gift from Ross and Beth Erny Foote, who met on their first day of law school, married shortly thereafter and graduated together in 1978.
“Our lives have been made possible by the LSU Law Center,” says Ross Foote, a retired judge. “We left with so much more than just law degrees, and we’ve always thought it was important—not only for ourselves but for everyone who owes their success to the LSU Law school—to give back as much as possible.”
In addition to establishing their own scholarship, the Footes wanted to motivate their classmates. They pledged $60,000, challenging their classmates to match it dollar for dollar in collective giving. They pledged to give an additional $20,000 if the class could come up with $100,000 in donations.
“The challenge was an absolutely phenomenal launching point,” says Byrd.
Because Beth Foote is a sitting judge for the U.S. District Court, the couple was required to remain anonymous when it came to soliciting donations. The Footes’ anonymity ended up adding an element of intrigue to the challenge.
“We had quite of bit of fun trying to figure out who was putting up all this money,” recalls Byrd. “Eventually we realized it didn’t matter. If they were contributing almost 50 percent of the goal, then we damn sure better be able to take it across the finish line. It really inspired our class to make the scholarship a reality.”
After about a year of fundraising, the $100,000 goal was met by the class, creating a $180,000 endowment. A total of 76 classmates contributed to the effort, including three who are deceased and had donations given on their behalf. The scholarship will compete for $120,000 in matching funds from Board of Regents. If granted, the endowment will total $300,000.
The Footes were revealed as the anonymous challengers at the class’ 40th reunion celebration last fall.
“It was especially fun to see some of the looks of disbelief that it came from two judges and not some hedge fund or plaintiff attorneys,” Ross Foote laughs. “None of them had a clue it was us.”
Beth Foote says the scholarship adds to a legacy of greatness that the class began establishing more than four decades ago.
“We were really the first class at LSU Law to have a significant number of women,” she says, noting slightly more than 15% of the class was female—a figure that grew nearly 50% in the subsequent 20 years. “Along with having so many successful women, which I’m particularly proud of, it was just an outstanding class of people. The number of judges and bar presidents our class produced is remarkable.”
Ross Foote hopes the scholarship will help LSU Law increase its competitiveness in attracting top candidates, as well as assist students who may not feel like they can attend law school due to the cost.
First-year LSU Law student Caroline Swanson is the first recipient of the Class of 1978 scholarship. The Prairieville native and Dutchtown High School graduate earned her B.A. from LSU, majoring in criminology and with a minor in political science.
“Receiving any scholarship is exciting, but to be the first is really special,” she says. “I’m very fortunate to have a family that is doing their best to help me pay for law school, and the 1978 scholarship is very helpful to me and my family. I’m very honored and grateful to have been chosen.”
While she has long considered pursuing a career in counterterrorism, Swanson—who served as an LSU Baseball bat girl during her undergraduate years—has more recently become interested in sports law. Though she’s still undecided on her career path, she’s planning on applying for an internship with Major League Baseball next summer.
“I feel like a law degree from LSU will allow me to do anything in my career that I choose to do,” she says.
The 1978 class is just the second class to create and endowed scholarship, joining the class of 1967.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled,” says Ross Foote. “Our contribution was leveraged in a joint effort that says a lot about the spirit and character of our class. You know, the class of 1978 started the yearbook and we started the Assault and Flattery event, so it’s fitting that we’ve continued to lead with the first class scholarship challenge.”
But to the Footes, learning about the first recipient of the class of 1978 scholarship doesn’t mark the end of a challenge so much as the start of a new one.
“Just imagine if every class picked up on the idea and met the same challenge,” says Ross Foote. “Fast forward another 40 years and that’s $12 million in endowed scholarships for LSU Law, which would make us very, very competitive. We’ve set a bar with this scholarship, and now we’re challenging every other class to meet and exceed it.”
Class of 1978 Scholarship Committee members:
Debbie Brown Gentry