The Knapp Family’s Tradition Of Giving
By Debbie Ritenour
For the Knapp family, attending Whitman College is something of a family tradition. Eight members spanning three generations have graduated from Whitman in the last 80 years.
Now, with the establishment of the Knapp Family Scholarship Endowment, they’ve deepened their custom of giving back to their alma mater.
“I think education is a means of overcoming many of life’s disadvantages, be it poverty, disability or discrimination,” says Roger Knapp ’73, who established the scholarship with his wife, Rosemary Gunter Knapp ’73. “On top of that, I think people who have an education, particularly a liberal arts education like the one you receive at Whitman, live a more fulfilling life.”
Finding Their People
Roger and Rosemary met at the library during their sophomore year. After discovering that they were both the rush chairs for their respective fraternity and sorority organizations—Rosemary was a member of Alpha Chi Omega, while Roger belonged to Sigma Chi—the two hit it off. They soon began dating.
“When we first came to Whitman, the women had to be back in their living quarters by a certain time each night,” Roger says. “By the time we left, Whitman had coed dorms, and the women’s hours were a thing of the past. We were there during some really significant social change.”
Both Roger, who grew up in Camas, Washington, and Rosemary, who grew up on the other side of the state in Colfax, were drawn to Whitman’s small size. They also had older friends who had gone to Whitman and liked it.
“We both felt like we found our people,” says Rosemary, who was an English major. “I came from a small farming community, and sometimes the people I went to high school with didn’t really have the same interests that I had. But when I went to Whitman, I found people who did.”
Roger, who majored in Political Science, enrolled in Willamette University College of Law after graduation, earning his Juris Doctor in 1976. Rosemary, meanwhile, returned to Colfax and taught at the local high school. She spent her summers working toward her master’s degree in English at Washington State University, which she also earned in 1976. Roger and Rosemary got married that same year. Roger clerked for the Washington Court of Appeals before the couple settled in Camas, where Roger joined his father’s law firm.
Generations of Whitties
Roger’s father, Hugh Knapp ’44, was the first in the family to attend Whitman. Hugh went on to earn his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School before starting a practice with a partner in Camas, where he and his wife, Madeline, raised two future Whitman alums: Roger and his sister, Deb Knapp ’75. Hugh and Roger practiced law side by side for nearly 15 years before the elder Knapp retired in 1991.
“It was a typical small-town practice where you do a variety of different things. Every day brought something new,” says Roger, who retired himself in 2016. “I found that to be intellectually stimulating and rewarding.”
Rosemary worked as a teacher-librarian for Camas High School for 29 years before retiring in 2012. She and Roger have two sons, both of whom graduated from Whitman. Andy Knapp ’03 is Director of Marketing at the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, and Elliot Knapp ’07 is a program manager at Blue Shield of California. Their daughters-in-law also are Whitman alums: Darin Reynaud ’03, Andy’s spouse, is an equity manager at Puget Sound Educational Service District, and Sarah Jennings ’07, Elliot’s spouse, is a postdoctoral fellow in the Biological Sciences department at California Polytechnic State University.
Roger and Rosemary are hopeful that a fourth generation will carry on the family tradition. They’re doing their part by giving Whitman gear to Andy and Darin’s two children, Dylan, 12, and Paige, 9. “Class of 2034 and Class of 2036,” Roger says with a laugh.
Making a Habit of Giving Back
“I think both of us look back on our four years at Whitman very fondly. I remember at the time wishing I could have one more year of college,” Roger says.
“I think ‘fondly’ is a light term,” Rosemary says. “Whitman was a really great experience for both of us, which is why we have continued to be actively involved with the college.”
Roger and Rosemary served as two of the three Co-Chairs of the Class of 1973 50th Reunion last May. The pair personally reached out to their classmates to invite them to attend the event, and Roger wrote a letter encouraging them to make a 50th Reunion gift to the college. Their own gift was the new scholarship endowment, which provides assistance to Whitman students from underrepresented groups.
The Knapps are funding their gift through qualified charitable distributions from Roger’s individual retirement account (IRA). This allows them to make a gift to Whitman each year while reducing or eliminating income taxes on required minimum distributions. They also designated Whitman as a beneficiary of the IRA to make a future estate gift with the remaining balance if not needed. In doing so, they eliminate future income tax that would be due if other heirs received the account. Other family members also are contributing to the endowment.
Rosemary advises Whitman students to start giving back to the college as soon as they graduate, noting that doing so can provide opportunity for students who otherwise may not have access to a world-class education.
“Get in the habit of giving to Whitman right away, even if you can only afford $10,” she says. “It's a way of saying thank you to the college and helping other people have the same great experience that you had.”