As hundreds of writers from all parts of the country and beyond gathered at the sold-out 10th Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, the University of Dayton paid tribute to the late Bill Bombeck — and his generosity.
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop has received the largest gift in its history — $230,000 bequeathed from Bombeck, who died at the age of 90 on Jan. 12. The Bombeck Family Learning Center, which underwent a major expansion in 2000 after receiving a $1 million gift from Bombeck, also received $230,000.
“The wonderful thing about the workshop is that our dad continued the legacy of our mom, not with an award or a plaque, but with a living, breathing conference of writers, storytellers and funny people, willing to take the risk of putting pen to paper,” said son Matt Bombeck, a screenwriter from Los Angeles. “He saw first hand what a little inspiration and some confidence boosting can do for a writer. That’s what this workshop is all about.”
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which Bill Bombeck helped launch in 2000, is held biennially on the campus where Bill and Erma graduated. It is immensely popular: this year’s workshop sold out in less than five hours. It honors one of America’s most celebrated storytellers and humorists and has attracted over the years such household names for keynoters as Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Phil Donahue, Nancy Cartwright, Mike Peters and Gail Collins. New Yorker magazine and CBS News cartoonist Liza Donnelly kicks off this year’s workshop.
The gift will bring the workshop’s endowment fund to more than $500,000, which will be used to enhance the quality and maintain the affordability of the workshop. The endowment was started in 2004 when University of Dayton alumnus Ralph Hamberg and his wife, Cindy, gave a $100,000 gift in memory of her cousin, Brother Tom Price, S.M. This University of Dayton English professor first told Erma “three little words” of encouragement: “You can write.”
Beyond the workshop, Bill Bombeck’s spirit lives in the classrooms and play areas of the Bombeck Family Learning Center, an early childhood education demonstration school that is nationally accredited and recognized by the state of Ohio for exceeding quality benchmarks.
“It’s impossible not to be impressed by nurturing environment of the Learning Center. The gift was a perfect fit for my dad; our parents’ love for children, their closeness to the University of Dayton, and of course, my dad’s love of learning and education,” said Matt Bombeck, who toured the center last month before his father’s graveside service in nearby Woodland Cemetery.
Kevin Kelly, dean of the School of Education and Health Sciences, said, “This gift from Mr. Bombeck will enable the Bombeck Center to continue to develop and disseminate best practices in early childhood education. His generosity enriches our entire community.”
Bill Bombeck, a 1950 University of Dayton alumnus, spent 26 years as an educator before taking on the Bombeck family’s business affairs and several high-profile volunteer roles.
As longtime national chairman for disaster services for the Red Cross, he helped those struggling to rebuild their lives after earthquakes, typhoons and other natural disasters. When his wife Erma died in 1996, he started the Erma Bombeck Organ Donor Awareness Project as a resource for the 100,000 Americans today waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant. He also served as the co-chair of the University of Dayton’s $150 million “Call to Lead” fundraising and image-building campaign in the 1990s.
“We’re touched by Bill’s generous spirit,” said Teri Rizvi, founder and director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. “Over the years, he gently and consistently encouraged writers to find their own voice, not try to be the next Erma Bombeck.
“At his core, he was a teacher,” she said. “The Bombeck Family Learning Center reflects Bill’s calling as an educator and Erma’s vocation as a chronicler of family life.”
— Teri Rizvi
Teri Rizvi is the founder and director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she serves as the executive director of strategic communications.