When Megan Clubb ’79 reflects on her family legacy, a recurring theme springs to mind: education. A fourth-generation Whitman College graduate, she traces her family’s centuries-long commitment to education in the Walla Walla Valley back to her great-great grandfather, Dorsey Baker, founder of Baker Boyer Bank, who came to the region in the mid-19th century as a young doctor and donated the land that became Whitman’s campus.
“It’s tied to this tradition that Dr. Baker started to support education as a foundation for community success,” she says. “You invest in educating the community, and you’re going to end up with a much more successful and wonderful place to live.”
Pouring on Support for a Passion
A decade ago, Clubb and her family decided to contribute all the profits from a special limited release from their L’Ecole No 41 winery—the 2008 L’Erudite (“The Scholar”)—to help fund the Whitman Institute for Scholastic Enrichment (WISE).
WISE immerses local middle schoolers in college life to motivate them to dream big. The free summer program features all the hallmarks of the campus experience: classes with Whitman professors, sleepovers in the residence halls and soccer on Ankeny Field, plus college prep panels and financial aid workshops for participants and their parents.
Now, another gift from the Clubbs is helping secure the program’s future: a second release of L’Erudite, this time a 2018 vintage Estate Vineyard blend.
It feels like a fitting tribute to the family’s roots: Clubb’s parents, Baker Ferguson ’39 (great-grandson of Dorsey Baker) and wife Jean established L’Ecole in 1983 (the name is a reference to the historic Frenchtown School depicted on their label). Clubb now co-owns the winery with her husband Marty and their children, Rebecca and Riley Clubb ’09. Riley was the one who came up with the name for L’Erudite (“The Scholar”).
Although temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WISE has become a cornerstone of the community, primarily accepting students from low-income backgrounds who would be the first in their families to attend college.
For the Clubbs, that’s what makes supporting WISE the most meaningful.
As Megan once told John Bogley ’85, former Whitman vice president for development and alumni relations, “I am very interested in supporting Whitman, but I have an even higher passion for supporting kids in the community and having them successfully get into college. That’s when he described the WISE program to me, and it just clicked.”
Waiting until high school to start talking to students about college is often too late, Megan says. “You’ve got to catch these kids earlier and inspire them, open their eyes to what the school experience would be like and try to create some excitement around that. If you do that with these middle-school students, then you’ve got a cadre of young people who actually can apply for the scholarships that are available at Whitman and other colleges.”
“There’s an emotional tie to be able to do this through the wine, and through this connection with something that my dad and mom created, and through the connection to the family history of giving to help educate people,” she says.
‘My First and Best Impression of Whitman’
The WISE program’s ultimate goal is to get local students energized about higher education in general—but some participants throughout the years have also discovered a particular affinity for Whitman.
“Whitman wasn’t really on my radar until I participated in the WISE program. Once I spent time on campus with students and got to experience the welcoming atmosphere, I realized that Whitman would be a great fit for me,” says Banyan Moss, a current Whitman sophomore from nearby Milton-Freewater, Oregon, who took part in WISE in 2017. She says the biggest highlight was meeting the Whitman students who served as mentors for her group of middle schoolers. “I had some great counselors, and they truly made that program memorable for me.”
Emma Philbrook, a native of neighboring Waitsburg, Washington, and another WISE Whittie, participated in the program in 2011 and graduated from Whitman in 2019. She is now in her final year of law school at the University of Notre Dame.
“I loved WISE. It was my first and best impression of Whitman,” she says. “All of the volunteers were amazing, and the classes were incredibly interesting. It was also wonderful getting to meet kids my age from outside my own enclave—it was great to know there was a world outside of Waitsburg. Most importantly, it gave me information on the college admissions process that I definitely wasn’t getting at school.”
History Repeats Itself
For Megan, it all comes back to that long, multigeneration legacy of supporting education. “There are hundreds of kids who have successfully gone through the WISE program, and that’s a significant uplift in my opinion. For those kids to have that opportunity resulted in an uplift to the entire community.”
The 2018 L’Erudite, a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc from L’Ecole’s Estate Seven Hills and Ferguson Vineyards, honors inextricably linked histories—of the family, the region and Whitman—on its label. It features an image of College Hall (1883-1918), which once stood off Boyer Avenue on the original land that Dorsey Baker donated.
“It has so many different elements of the historical connection to the family and supporting the community—doing the things that my husband and children and I all believe are really important,” she says. “This isn’t a gift from Marty and I, this is a gift from our family; the generations before that made L’Ecole possible and our children, Riley and Rebecca.”