Immediate Impact of Scholarship Fund Helps Both Donor and Student

“I want to make a difference in my lifetime,” said Kathy Spuhler (BA ’70).

Specifically, Spuhler wants to make it possible for deserving young people to earn an education. That is why she established an endowed scholarship fund at DU in honor of her son, Trevor P. Vanneman, who suffered an untimely death in 2008 at the age of 32.

Spuhler made her gift of $500,000 in 2016. When Ben Getchell, a first-year student, was named as the first recipient, she was able to get to know him. The two met for the first time at a reception on campus celebrating Trevor’s life and the new scholarship fund. Since then, they have had lunch together twice near campus. Getchell’s scholarship was renewed, and the two are planning to keep in touch.

Getchell came to DU after attending a Waldorf School, as the Vanneman Endowed Scholarship stipulates. Spuhler, who studied Education and Psychology at the University of Denver, sent her son to the Denver Waldorf School through eighth grade. She believes wholeheartedly in the philosophy, which emphasizes experiential learning and creativity.

She said, “The Waldorf philosophy is different from what students learn at the typical public or even private school. So Waldorf graduates bring a diversity of thinking to DU, which is an important part of the University’s strategic plan.”

“I’m delighted to witness this scholarship in action and to see Trevor’s name continue on in such a meaningful way.”

Getchell said, “I knew DU would push me outside of my comfort zone. And I knew I needed that.” At the Boulder Valley Waldorf School in Longmont, Colorado, there were just 16 people in his graduating class. At DU, he said, he was slow to adjust socially. He assumed he was different—more philosophical—than his peers.

“When I looked out at the rest of the world, I just assumed that people my age weren’t able to think or converse conceptually or theoretically,” he said. “But at DU, I’m learning that even though someone might not articulate the same way I do, we all are human. I try to meet people in the middle somewhere. Not every conversation needs to be an existential crisis.”

At DU, Getchell did meet students like himself. His first-year seminar was “Quantum Physics and How It Affects You Every Day.” In a required writing class with professor Sam Knights, he read “The Gastronomical Me” by MFK Fisher and “Loitering,” a collection of essays by Charles D’Ambrosio.

Getchell said, “By reading those works together, we learned that the most profound philosophical concepts can be found in the everyday minutiae, if you just know how to see them.”

Now, Getchell plans to major in Philosophy and minor in Entrepreneurship. He has a work-study position on the innovation floor of the Ritchie Center for Engineering and Computer Science, where he is learning the skills he says he will need to succeed in a world that rewards delivery on concrete promises. He is grateful for the financial support and kindness he receives.

Spuhler, too, is seeking beauty in small things. After a varied career in arts education, arts administration and nonprofit consulting, and serving on boards including Denver’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, she travels, sees friends and helps her grandchildren. She is making her own art in a variety of media, including photography, painting and mosaics.

“Grieving the death of a child is never over,” Spuhler said. “It comes in waves. But seeing the impact of my scholarship feels really good. I’m delighted to witness this scholarship in action and to see Trevor’s name continue on in such a meaningful way.”