Seattle’s Mortar Board alumni, an “expanded family” welcoming both graduates of the University of Washington and Mortar Board graduates of other colleges and universities across the country, have earned the premier reputation of being the largest and most active regional Mortar Board alumni group in the nation. Underlying the success has been a deep sense of caring and an unflinching commitment to higher education. A major factor, too, has been the enjoyment of Mortar Board friendships spanning class years and campuses.
The alumni’s beginning was rather small. Three University of Washington graduates, thinking fondly of their Tolo experiences, decided in 1916 to form the “Tolo Twig.” Interest in keeping in touch expanded, and the twig grew.
Visionary thinking was an early Tolo characteristic. Tolo alumnae purchased a home near the UW campus to provide much-needed housing for women students. When in 1925, the alumnae assumed many of the responsibilities of Tolo House, it became necessary to be incorporated under the laws of the State of Washington. Over 200 alumnae signed the articles of incorporation.
Tolo House offered a natural forum for working more closely with the collegiate Tolo Chapter. This relationship, with its mutual respect for each other’s autonomy, yet interrelation, has been a continuing link.
Raising funds for student financial aid became an instinctive outgrowth. Proceeds of the eventual Tolo House sale were among funds set aside for this purpose. With deserving students as the focus of unstinting efforts, alumnae sold automobile license tabs, sponsored concerts, plays and a host of other events, and sought donations from their membership to enable scholarships to be awarded. Endowed scholarships carne into being as noteworthy individuals were honored by having scholarships awarded in their names.
Ever the innovators, alumnae presented television series and sought new areas of service. Banquets, homecoming open houses, book reviews were among the other reasons to gather. Opportunities for learning were opened to the community, as seminars and conclaves became “town and gown” occasions.
In the late 1970’s, the “alumnae” of Tolo Association became the Mortar Board Alumni/Tolo Association, reflecting both the expansion of membership to include men as Mortar Board members and the distinguished heritage of Tolo.
The evolution of success continued.
In 1993, Seattle’s Mortar Board alumni received widespread attention when it conceived and led a successful statewide campaign to name a major Seattle interstate floating bridge (the newer I-90 bridge over Lake Washington) for Homer M. Hadley, the inventive designer and engineer of the first floating bridge. Mr. Hadley’s wife, revered Margaret Hadley, was a member of Tolo Club’s first tapped class. The Mortar Board alumni campaign received endorsements from Washington historical societies, engineering societies, civic groups, sand newspapers. Citizens throughout the state signed the campaign petition. The Washington State Department of Transportation created a video of historic footage of the original bridge construction and an interview with Homer Hadley’s daughter (and Mortar Board honorary member), Dr. Eleanor Hadley. State Representative (and future Washington Governor, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and Ambassador to China) Gary Locke was one of two sponsors of the bill. State Senator Emilio Cantu was the other sponsor, and was joined by Mortar Board alumni serving in the legislature. The bill was passed unanimously by the Transportation Commission and by both houses of the legislature, and was signed by the governor.
At a special membership meeting on February 12, 1998, Seattle’s Mortar Board Alumni voted to become a private foundation. The reorganization followed more than two years’ extensive study by a blue-ribbon task force. At issue was how to restructure Mortar Board Alumni/Tolo Association (as it was formerly known) to retain its tax exemption, sound management, independent traditions and important programs.
After the meeting’s unanimous vote, appropriate documents, prepared in consultation with Seattle’s Davis Wright Tremaine law firm, were submitted to the Washington State Secretary of State and to the Internal Revenue Service. During the summer of 1998, the IRS recognized Mortar Board Alumni/Tolo Foundation as a private foundation, allowing Mortar Board donors to continue to deduct gifts to Mortar Board as tax-deductible contributions. The Foundation became officially recorded with the Washington State Secretary of State. Foundation administrative steps included expanding permanent records for scholarships awards, as required by the IRS.
The Foundation was in place for Seattle’s Mortar Board Alumni to grow in its mission of advancing scholarship, leadership and service. At July 2002 Mortar Board National Conference, national Mortar Board awarded the Mortar Board Alumni/Tolo Foundation the “Outstanding Alumni Chapter Award” in recognition of sustained excellence, outstanding accomplishments, and lifelong dedication to the ideals of Mortar Board Scholarship, Leadership, and Service.
Mortar Board Alumni/Tolo Foundation’s membership is now regional, and its 2020 membership roster includes Mortar Board graduates from over 60 universities. The Foundation is “alumni home” to the two Mortar Board collegiate chapters in the region – the University of Washington (Tolo Chapter) and the University of Puget Sound (Otlah Chapter).