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Crossroads, Winter 2005:
profiles in giving

Kirk Shisler: guided by his values wherever he ventures

One day 19 years ago, Kirk Shisler (C 81) was sitting in the home of Grace Hefner, the mother of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. He didn’t know this. Shisler was simply visiting and thanking loyal donors in his role as director of planned giving for Laubauch Literacy International. As far as he knew, Grace Hefner was a nice elderly woman who was enthusiastic about promoting literacy around the world.

As Shisler, now vice president for advancement at EMU, chatted in Mrs. Hefner’s living room, his hostess asked out of the blue: ‘Would you like a tour of my home?’

“She made a beeline to her den on the first floor and pointed to a large oil painting of a man in a purple robe with a pipe in his hand. ‘Perhaps you’ve heard of my son Hugh?’ she said with an impish smile.”

The man’s identity was underscored by the photos on a nearby shelf of Hefner surrounded by some of his bunnies. Amid the photos, Shisler spotted a Lucite paperweight containing the image on a bronze medallion of the founder of Laubach Literacy International, Dr. Frank C. Laubach.

Shisler has had years to reflect on the irony of finding Laubach—a Christian mystic who wrote more than 30 books on integrating prayer into every waking moment of a person’s life—sharing his place of honor on Mrs. Hefner’s shelf with a playboy and his playmates.

Actually it was Laubach’s writings, some of which Shisler read for an EMU class called “Christian Discipleship,” that led Shisler to be interested in working for Laubach Literacy (now called Pro Literacy Worldwide).

“I felt drawn to the life and work of Frank Laubach, who utterly embraced God’s invitation to pray ‘without ceasing’ and who also linked the cause of literacy to issues of justice and peacemaking.”

At the literacy organization—where Shisler’s planned giving program amassed over $20 million in commitments— Shisler first showed that his fundraising always is driven by his values and principles, not vice versa.

Early in his career, in 1984, he visited a donor whom we will call “Elizabeth.” She was interested in establishing a large charitable trust for Laubach Literacy, but she did not have a financial advisor. Shisler recalls that Elizabeth would have readily transferred most of her assets to Laubach in an irrevocable charitable trust.

“I was not comfortable with what she wanted to do,” said Shisler. “I was concerned that she would not be able to provide for herself if she needed long-term care. So I proposed that she set up a revocable gift plan to enable her to retain access to her assets if she needed them.”

The outcome was providential. Elizabeth is still living, enjoying bountiful returns from her plan. She has shared these returns with Laubach, giving the organization almost $1 million of support.

Shisler has never forgotten that lesson. “By looking after her welfare, we not only did the right thing morally, but the cause of literacy was materially rewarded too.”

To accept the job as EMU vice president for advancement, Shisler and his family—wife Mary Ann, 13-year-old Ben, and 11-year-old Andy—made sacrifices earlier this year. They left a home in Syracuse, N.Y., and a church, Plymouth Congregational (UCC), that they loved. The boys still miss their life-long friends in Syracuse. They came to a region where housing costs more than Syracuse. Adding to the adjustment, Shisler took a pay cut though he gained twice as many work responsibilities.

In the face of these drawbacks, three things weighed in favor of Shisler deciding to serve EMU.

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Firstly and most importantly, Mary Ann and Kirk wanted their boys to experience living and growing to maturity in a Mennonite community. “It is our prayer that our sons will benefit from the Anabaptist/Mennonite values that shaped our formation,” says Shisler.

Secondly, Shisler felt moved to respond to the call issued by his old friend, president Loren Swartzendruber. Loren had recruited Shisler to EMC when Loren was a young admissions officer in 1976. “I was impressed by Loren’s energy and enthusiasm then, and I remain so today,” says Shisler.

Finally, Shisler had fond memories of EMC, where he served as Weathervane editor, and he had family links to this community. He wanted to “give back” some of what he had received as a young college student.
—Bonnie Lofton (G 04)