For most children, after all, teachers are the ones who nurture a love for learning. And it is teachers who give students confidence to challenge themselves, to enroll in college, to pursue careers.
Michael has never lost sight of the role his own teachers played in giving his life direction. So when the time came for the 70-year-old to consider how best to make a lasting difference for future generations, he chose to establish a scholarship at the University of Florida to help practicing teachers earn graduate degrees.
The Wisconsin lawyer’s $2.2 million gift will support Alachua County teachers who enroll in graduate school to improve their teaching skills and advance their careers. His donation, made through a provision in his will, is one of the largest single contributions by an individual in the College of Education’s history.
Michael credits his teachers, especially those from Gainesville High School, for his later Ivy League and law school successes.
“We all support our colleges and professional schools financially, but what about our public schools? They have to serve entire communities, not just a tiny fraction of the population,” he says. “In my own experience, my public school teachers didn’t just get us through our classwork, they challenged us and inspired us.”
Michael graduated from Gainesville High School in 1962. He then earned degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School and practiced law in several cities around the country. He now lives most of the year in Madison, Wis., and spends winters in Gainesville.
“I could not have my career in Gainesville, but at least I can give something back,” he says.
Glenn Good, dean of UF’s College of Education, described the gift as “thoughtful and magnificent.”
“For Michael Gengler to honor his former teachers by helping other teachers speaks well of his character. His scholarships will have a ripple effect that will touch teachers and children for generations,” he says. Teachers who receive a scholarship from the Michael T. Gengler Endowment Fund must have three or more years of classroom teaching experience and agree to teach for three more years in Alachua County, Fla., after earning their advanced degrees.
“I hope this program helps attract excellent teachers to the county, and then will encourage them to pursue advanced degrees and leverage that talent and education in their classroom teaching careers,” Michael says. “If the program works, the real beneficiaries will be their students.”