A Passion for Giving Back Fueled by Farm Values

Spencer Duin ’66, ’18 is a recipient of the 2023 Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes an individual who has provided outstanding volunteer service for the benefit of the University or someone who has played a vital role as a volunteer fundraiser on behalf of the NDSU Foundation.

Story by Nicole Thom-Arens | March 21, 2023

Spencer Duin receiving an honorary doctorate from NDSU in 2018

For Spencer Duin ’66, ’18 philanthropy and volunteer work are rooted in principles he learned from his parents, in the farming community where he grew up, and his world views.

“We talk about freedom, and we talk about less government, but there are still needs in the community, so if you really believe those things and are blessed with more than you need — which we have been — it just seems like the right thing to do,” Spencer said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my wife, Carol, because she has a very kind, sensitive heart and often identified a need first.”

Spencer’s philanthropic support started modestly. For years, when his children were young, Spencer would take his NDSU Foundation donation log chart to the dining room table and add the annual giving sticker to the current year. He believed showing his kids that he was donating to NDSU, his alma mater, was a good way to demonstrate giving back.

As he neared retirement, he met the dean of NDSU’s College of Engineering and joined the College’s advisory board shortly after. In 2002, two years after retiring from a 40-year career in the electrical industry, Spencer became an NDSU Foundation Trustee.

“My wife and I are always trying to share with charities, but if we share substantially, we also try to be more involved in those. That certainly applied to NDSU and the College of Engineering,” Spencer said. “At the Foundation, I felt I had value to share regarding the endowment. It isn’t that I am a financial advisor nor an accountant, but if you’ve been successful in business, you understand what numbers mean. I’ve always thought I had value in helping people understand what numbers mean.”

As a Trustee, Spencer has served on the investment committee for more than 20 years. He chaired the committee from 2013-2022. As chair, Spencer spearheaded a project that captured the history of the NDSU Foundation’s endowment, which grew from about $40 million in 2002 to more than $423.2 million as of Dec. 31, 2022.

During In Our Hands: The Campaign for North Dakota State University, Spencer and Carol were one of the firsts to establish a named faculty position endowment.

“I never thought in my whole life that I would get to the point where I could endow a professor,” Spencer said. “I felt at that time it was something we could do, and I really felt that it was needed in engineering because it is competitive to find good professors in the College of Engineering. I felt if I could at least provide an avenue for one professor, others might have stepped forward and they did.”

Benefactors established 22 named positions at NDSU during the In Our Hands campaign. These named positions help recruit and retain faculty members across campus.

When asked what NDSU means to him, Spencer told the following story: a few Christmases ago, his son Jason framed Spencer’s NDSU diploma, which is about 8.5-by-11 inches. While home for the holidays, Spencer’s son Derek and his daughter, Darcy, pointed out that their diplomas were much larger in size and asked if that said anything about Spencer’s university. Spencer replied that he had many people with large diplomas work for him over the years.

“My son who gave it to me said, ‘Well, I don’t know about the size of diplomas, but I know what that diploma has meant to our family,’” Spencer recalled with a laugh. “I struggled to find the right engineering program when I was at North Dakota State. It took me a couple of years, but then I got an industrial engineering degree, which really got me into what I always wanted to do in my life, which is run things. I did that even when I was growing up on the farm — maybe it was part of my DNA. That engineering degree opened the doors.”

Spencer received an honorary doctorate from NDSU in 2018.

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