Gifts of the Harvest: The Knight Society - Y Magazine
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Gifts of the Harvest

Gifts of the Harvest

As they share the fruit of their labor, members of the Knight Society create a legacy of giving.

By Sarah Montgomery McConkie (’11), Lisa K. Nielson (’11), Marianne Jack Brewer (BA ’10) in the Winter 2011 Issue

If you’ve spent any time on BYU’s campus, you’re indebted to pioneer mining magnate Jesse Knight—affectionately known as “Uncle Jesse”—and his wife, Amanda. Perhaps your breath has caught as you took in the stately Maeser Building’s marble against the earnest blue of an autumn sky. If so, you’ve benefitted from the Knights’ sizeable contributions and determined fund-raising that made the university’s first building on upper campus a reality in 1911. Or if you’ve bustled across the quads south of the library, you owe the experience to Amanda, who donated the land. Or if you have lived or learned in one of the many BYU buildings funded in part by proceeds from the Jesse Knight Endowment, the university’s first endowment, you know whom to thank.

But, of course, it’s going on a century too late to thank Uncle Jesse and Aunt Amanda, who passed away in 1921 and 1932, respectively, for their contributions to your BYU experience. Fortunately, for each of the Knights’ donations—from their $1,000 gift in 1898 to help build Brigham Young Academy’s College Building to the multiple times they rescued the young university from financial collapse—the university found opportunities to express appreciation while they were yet alive.

So it’s fitting that their names are affixed to a society created to honor donors before the opportunity to acknowledge their generosity passes. The Jesse and Amanda Knight Society recognizes those who have named BYU as a beneficiary of a deferred gift—a will, a trust, a retirement account, an annuity—a gift that will be realized in the future, many times after the death of the donor.

Established in 2003, the Knight Society now boasts 766 members in 451 families whose pledged gifts to BYU are estimated to be $215 million. Members, like those whose stories follow, include alumni, faculty, and other friends of BYU. The size of each donation varies—and is ultimately irrelevant to membership in the society. “The Knight Society is an equalizer. They are all peers in this,” says Julie I. Geilman (BA ’02), program coordinator. “Their intentions qualify them for the society.”

Helping the BYU

When Dixie K. Mangum Snow (’34) was a little girl, she would sometimes walk down to Provo’s Center Street to buy candy or ice cream. One of her most vivid childhood memories is of the elderly Jesse Knight—her grandfather—handing her some coins from his pocket so she could buy a few extra sweets. “He wasn’t a very good businessman,” chuckles Snow. “He made money, but he gave it away. He was generous.”

At 97 years old, Snow is the last surviving grandchild of the Knights. Her memories of Jesse are few since he passed away when she was still in elementary school, but Snow had a close relationship with Amanda throughout her teenage and young adult years. “She was my great friend,” recounts Snow. Along with her cousins, Snow was fond of stopping by Amanda’s home on the way back from school for some good conversation and something tasty from the kitchen. “Grandmother was special. We all felt it.”

Snow shares story after story of Amanda’s hardworking and sacrificing nature. Once, in response to a request from Jesse for money to cover the mortgage debt of a woman in need, Amanda agreed to mortgage her own home so that the other woman’s home wouldn’t be lost. A short time later, when Jesse needed more credit from the bank for a business transaction, the bank willingly extended it, saying that any man whose wife was willing to mortgage her own home to save another woman’s home could be trusted.

Both during Jesse’s life and after, Amanda was always willing to share with others the financial blessings the Lord had given them. “She and Grandfather were one,” says Snow. “She was such a strong woman, and one who helped the BYU.”

Snow’s own story also unfolded as one of generosity toward the university she loves. She attended BYU with the class of ’34 but went back east to take a job as a secretary for William J. Snow Jr. (’28) before she graduated. They later wedded and then spent their entire married life away from Utah. “But our roots stayed very tied to the BYU,” says Snow. Her father-in-law, William J. Snow Sr. (1910), was a well-loved professor in BYU’s history department, and all of her siblings attended BYU. She returned to live in Utah after her husband’s death and takes pride in her membership in the society that bears her grandparents’ names. “I think it’s important that it’s the Jesse and Amanda Knight Society,” says Snow. “Including both names broadens it. . . . She was his partner, and she made sacrifices too.”

After being named an honorary member of the Knight Society, Snow decided “to become a member of the Knight Society for real” by naming the university in her will. Her reasons for giving back are simple: “My family’s roots are BYU, and they run deep. We’re followers!”

—Sarah Montgomery McConkie (’11), Editorial Intern

Give of Your Treasure

What does a man worry about most in the final years of his life, when his wife is in a care facility with failing health and he is stretching Social Security checks to make ends meet? Such were Ralph Tiebout’s circumstances in 2003, yet his greatest concern was that he was not sacrificing enough. “I’m not doing very well at living the law of consecration,” he lamented to his friend and stake president, Don Pearson. “I can’t tell you anything about that,” replied Pearson. “That’s between you and the Lord.” Tiebout decided to go to the temple and pray until he knew what to do.

In the celestial room of the Los Angeles Temple, Tiebout prayed for what seemed like hours before four words came to his mind: “Give of your treasure.” Rejoicing at the clarity of the answer, Tiebout returned home, only to become perplexed. What treasure did he have to give? Finally, he remembered an heirloom violin that his family had long prized.

Passed down for generations, this violin was the prototype for the instruments his family had crafted for years. Without any children, Tiebout was the last of his family line. So he contacted BYU to donate the instrument, along with some other violins and cellos, to the School of Music. In 2004 Tiebout visited BYU’s campus for the first time, bringing the instruments and his enthusiasm. At a master class held for the occasion, he taught students about violin making.

As a result of his experience visiting campus to donate the instruments, Tiebout decided to leave his entire estate to BYU in his will. After Tiebout passed away in 2006, proceeds from the estate contributed to the construction of the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center, which was dedicated in 2007.

In consecrating what little he had, Tiebout not only gave of the things he treasured but also shared his talents and an inspiring personality. “In our dealings with him, we can say without reservation that we loved him,” says Kory L. Katseanes, director of the School of Music. “He was sincere, devout, and gentle—just a lovely man.”

“[E]veryone has treasure,” Tiebout noted in an interview shortly before his death. “Although they might not think so, everyone has treasure they can share with others. It isn’t always money. And they can give of their treasure so that other people are given a great advantage.”

—Lisa K. Nielson (’11), Editorial Intern

Money Well Spent

There is nothing at all interesting about Peter and Alta Hart (’54). Nothing at all, says Alta. Never mind that Alta worked as a nurse with heart surgeon Russell M. Nelson or that Peter was an army paratrooper or that the couple has regularly donated to BYU since Ernest L. Wilkinson (BA ’21) was president. They will assure you that they are very boring people.

Peter, who joined the Church in his 30s and never attended BYU, came by his passion for BYU during a football game in September 1990. He couldn’t help but be impressed as he watched the Cougars defeat the no. 1-ranked Miami Hurricanes. “That was the first time I stepped on the BYU campus, and I fell in love with the school,” he reminisces. Today Peter travels to every home football game from Fair Oaks, Calif., and is a legacy member of the Cougar Club for his significant donations to BYU athletics.

Alta served as a nurse in the Air Force for 20 years, including one summer when she attended to wounded soldiers on air evacuations out of Vietnam. Alta met Peter while serving at Travis Air Force Base in California in the 1960s. A nurse for 48 years, Alta discovered her love for nursing early. “I read a book when I was in the seventh grade about this girl that was a nurse in the army, and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’” She studied at BYU for two years before completing her nursing requirements at the University of Utah.

For the Harts, giving to the university has never been in question. Harder to agree upon is where to give. “My first interest is athletics, of course, and my wife’s first interests are academics—music and nursing,” says Peter. He has won some battles in giving to the Cougar Club, but Alta holds strong with regular donations to the College of Nursing and the School of Music.

They have found a compromise in their deferred gift: a living trust naming the LDS Church as well as the BYU Board of Trustees/President’s Fund, a fund that distributes resources wherever they are most needed at the university. The Harts’ house, bank accounts, and all other assets in the trust will be divided between the Church and BYU when the Harts no longer have a use for them.

While the Harts go about doing good in quiet and unassuming ways, they are hardly boring. They are glad to give their deferred donation to BYU, no matter where it will be used. “No strings attached . . . ; it’s going to go to the school, and that’s it,” says Alta. “We feel like [the students are] future leaders for the Church, so that’s money well spent.”

—Marianne Jack Brewer (BA ’10), Editorial Intern

Giving Back and Paying Forward

During the summer of 2009, Jonathan T. Ramos (BS ’10) and his wife, Pamela Parks Ramos (’09), were burning the candle at both ends. He was an intern during the day; she worked at a call center evenings and Saturdays. Despite their long hours, they did their best to attend to their number-one priority—their 7-month-old son, Isaac. As fall approached, they planned to continue their grueling trade-off schedule while Jonathan completed his degree in finance. But a couple of weeks before the semester started, the Ramoses received two letters that changed their lives. Both were from BYU, notifying Jonathan of unexpected scholarships and alumni-funded grant money that would arrive before school began. The financial assistance went a long way: Pamela was able to quit her job at the call center and spend more time with Isaac.

“I was so full of gratitude. I could now be a stay-at-home mother as I had always dreamed, and we could spend more time together as a family,” she says. “We know that these blessings come from our Father in Heaven, and we want to assist in providing opportunities like this for other student families.”

Today, the Ramoses hold the distinction of being the youngest couple in the Jesse and Amanda Knight Society. “The scholarships undoubtedly made it easier to focus on our studies and on becoming parents,” says Jonathan. “Considering these numerous blessings, we wanted to give back to the school as a way of ultimately giving back to the Lord.” And for a young and growing family like the Ramoses, planned giving seemed like the perfect option.

The Ramoses have designated BYU as a beneficiary on their life insurance policy. This means that in the event of their deaths the funds remaining after family members’ needs had been met will be donated to BYU. The Ramoses have also named BYU as a contingent beneficiary on their IRA accounts, allowing BYU to receive funds from the couple’s IRA accounts if they pass away before using the funds.

Thanks to their chosen methods of planned giving, the Ramoses have the opportunity of taking caring of their family now and paving the way for BYU student families to come. “Scholarships for students make it affordable for them to gain an education and start a family,” says Pamela. “Even if you may not have much to give, planning your donations creates opportunities for BYU to receive necessary funds in the future.”

—Sarah Montgomery McConkie (’11), Editorial Intern

Extending Their Family

David K. (BA ’85) and Debra Gehris never had their own children, but that hasn’t stopped them from having a family. After joining the Church in their 20s and marrying, the Pennsylvania natives came to BYU and have been in Utah ever since. “We have what we call our ‘Utah family,’ which is very extended and very cherished and loved,” David explains. Their Utah family includes everyone from friends down the street to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, in which they sang for 20 years and are now fulfilling church callings as part of the choir’s administrative support staff. Whether it’s making the choir look good on stage or helping their Armenian neighbor fund his BYU education, the Gehrises find many ways to serve their Utah family.

The Gehrises have also included BYU in their family circle. They have outlined parameters for two unique scholarships that will be funded through their living trust. Based on the scholarship criteria, the recipients may even end up having something like a “family resemblance” with these donors. “Mine’s for an education major,” says Debra, who pursued a master’s in education and taught at BYU for two years. The scholarship will cover all expenses. “And mine,” adds David, “is for returned missionaries who might not have been the most stellar students when they entered BYU but will be stellar students when they exit.” David says he was “so blessed” upon returning from his own mission to have the support of his mission president and an aunt, allowing him to graduate with “zero debt.”

From their own student days, the Gehrises know that many are not so fortunate. Debra remembers watching young married couples struggle financially, the wife often dropping out of school so her husband could finish. They hope their gift will not only help the scholarship recipients avoid this extremity but also create a legacy of giving that will pass from one generation of students to the next. David explains that scholarship recipients will receive a letter that will tell them, “You’re being given a gift here. You need to pay it forward. Once you get yourself started in life and get positioned, pay back in some way and help somebody else.” In this way, the Gehrises’ Utah family will keep expanding as long as people are willing to give.

“Education is the most important way of helping the world,” says David. “What we’ve been blessed with we see simply as a stewardship. . . . It all goes back to Heavenly Father to help build the kingdom.”

—Lisa K. Nielson (’11), Editorial Intern

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A Society of Givers

The Jesse and Amanda Knight Society’s first annual luncheon, in 2003, was a humble gathering of just 29 deferred-giving donors. In 2010, more than 125 Knight Society members filled the Hinckley Center assembly hall, coming from as far away as North Carolina. More than just an opportunity for President Cecil O. Samuelson to personally thank the donors for their planned gifts, their campus visit also provides insight into what their generosity will someday support.

“They go home so very enthused and feeling just a little more like an insider,” says Shirley Calder Oscarson (’55), who, with her husband R. Don Oscarson (BS ’54), chairs the Knight Society, which now boasts more than 750 members.

The numbers have swelled in part as those who had already named BYU in a future gift have heard about the society and notified LDS Philanthropies of their bequest. “If you make a deferred gift of any kind, in any amount,” says Don, “you are automatically a member of the society.”

Planned gifts include donations through wills, trusts, life insurance policies, and various annuities (see list below)—gifts to the university that won’t be realized until some future event occurs. Advised by LDS Philanthropies planned-giving officers on various gift types and their tax implications, donors can craft giving plans that allow them to make charitable contributions while also attending to their family’s financial needs and goals.

Though many planned-giving donors are approaching or in retirement, deferred gifts can be made by adult donors in any stage of life. “Most people think of deferred gifts as gifts they can’t plan for until they are much older or married, but that’s not so,” says Julie I. Geilman (BA ’02), Knight Society program coordinator. “Creating a deferred gift can be as simple as naming a charity as a beneficiary in a retirement plan, which many younger people have already created.”

Interested donors have a variety of deferred-giving options from which to choose:

Testamentary Gifts: Bequest provisions in a will, living trust, life insurance policy, retirement plan, or other tool.

Split-Interest Gifts: Gifts in which the donor and the university share an interest in the property given. These include gift annuities, pooled income funds (similar to mutual funds), and charitable remainder and lead trusts.

Family-Directed Giving Tools: Gifts that allow the donor and the donor’s family to choose where future funds will go. Included are donor-advised funds and private foundations.

Bruce M. Snow (BS ’70), director of LDS Philanthropies BYU and a Knight Society member, says his involvement yields many benefits for his family. “In a small way, our family helps fulfill the mission of BYU,” he says. “[Our participation] allows us to be engaged with BYU—to see what is going on and feel connected.”

Web: To learn more or to notify LDS Philanthropies of a planned gift you have made, go to or contact Julie Geilman at 801-422-7205 or