The Virginia Baumgartner-King Family and Wayne State: Education Empowers Women, Transforms Lives
The Wayne State history in the family of Virginia Baumgartner-King, M.S.W. ’69 spans more than a century and includes 4 generations of women whose education empowered them to achieve professional fulfillment and financial independence.
When Virginia’s first marriage ended in 1960, she and her 6 children moved to Detroit from Gainesville, Florida, to live with her mother and aunts. Virginia’s children, aged 2 to 11 at the time, recalled that they had, in essence, 3 live-in grandmothers caring for them. Virginia’s daughter, Mary Baumgartner, recounted that one of her aunts advised her mother to become a school social worker so that she would have the same hours as her children and summers off. Virginia followed that advice, and in 1969 earned a master’s degree in social work from Wayne State. Mary said that her mother found herself and her life’s purpose at the school. Virginia established close, lifelong friendships with her classmates and her professors, and was encouraged to apply for the grants and loans that funded her education. She worked as a school social worker for Detroit and Northville Public Schools for decades before going into private practice in Southfield. She was an active alumna and chaired the development committee for the Board of Visitors at the School of Social Work.
But Virginia’s family ties to Wayne State were established more than eighty years before she enrolled at the School of Social Work. In fact, Virginia was the third generation of women in her family to earn a degree at Wayne State. In the 1880s Virginia’s grandfather, Edward F. Ward, brought 3 of his sisters to Detroit and paid for them to attend the Detroit Normal Training School for Teachers (later Detroit Teachers’ College and then the WSU College of Education). His sisters then spent many years working for Detroit Public Schools.
Edward also made sure that his 3 daughters attended college, and all earned bachelor’s degrees in French literature at Northwestern University. Louise Ward, M.A. ’39, his eldest daughter, and Ruth Maher Ward, M.A. ’37, his middle daughter and Virginia’s mother, both graduated from Detroit Teachers’ College and earned degrees in French at Wayne State. Virginia’s parents divorced at some point prior to 1940, and she and her sisters moved with their mother to live with Louise and Phyllis Ward, Ruth’s sisters. All 3 women taught in Detroit high schools, but Ruth was the only one who married or had children. And Virginia’s daughter, Helen Baumgartner Reilly, B.A ’77, became the fourth generation in her family to graduate from Wayne State.
Inspired by her own experience as a scholarship recipient as well as by her friends’ philanthropy, Virginia established the Virginia Baumgartner-King Endowed Scholarship at the School of Social Work in 2006. Virginia wrote, “Our family’s association with Wayne State has enhanced our independence, our love of learning and our fruitful careers in public service. We believe that, through this scholarship, others will benefit from their association with Wayne State as much as we have.”
Virginia’s youngest child, Frank Baumgartner, Ph.D., is a distinguished scholar, award-winning author, educator and social justice activist who currently serves as the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Frank recently made a planned gift that will increase the size of his mother’s named endowment by roughly one thousand percent—enough to award an annual, full-tuition scholarship to a deserving student.
When asked what inspired his gift, Frank said that his mother’s “M.S.W. and the career it afforded literally saved us. Mama was able to work in the Detroit Public Schools, we were able to live independently as a family and all was good in the world, after a time when it had not been so.” He referenced as well the academic opportunities that had been made available to him elsewhere and to the women in his family at Wayne State. Frank hoped that his gift would have a positive ripple effect, originating with the scholarship recipients and extending out to everyone else who will be helped by their good works.