I’m a Lifelong Learner – Annie Upper Ames ’86

Posted Sep 16, 2020

I saw an ad in the paper for a course at Otterbein and thought that it sounded interesting. I ran over to Otterbein to sign up. In the middle of the course, I realized I was doing really well and would have an ‘A so I decided to become a student.

It took me nine years to earn my degree. I was raising four children and helping run the family business while I would juggle taking a class or two. (Annie was helping build Donatos Pizza into a hugely successful pizzeria chain with her then-husband, Jim Grote.) My hard work came to fruition in 1986 when I earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology.

The whole experience opened up my mind and my world. I grew up in an age when some people felt women shouldn’t go to college. That’s what made me so hungry for Otterbein.

Annie’s Otterbein involvement didn’t end there, however. She’s served on the Alumni Council and as a University trustee. She also supports her alma mater as a philanthropic leader with a vision — whether gifts to the Otterbein Fund (formerly known as the Annual Fund), funds for special projects that include the Knowlton Center for Equine Science and Science Building improvements, or in creating an endowed scholarship for women returning to college.

Annie stood strong with her alma mater in support of the Where We STAND Matters comprehensive campaign. She made a commitment of $1 million for scholarships and $500,000 to support The Grove pedestrian mall project near the Campus Center. It is one of the largest gifts from a single donor for the campaign.

I really believe in Otterbein. It’s the perfect size, the campus is beautiful, and I love the leaders there. It’s an easy place to get to know people and be one-on-one with your professors. That made a big difference for me since I had been out of school for so long. I found the professors were willing to go all out to help me.

Annie believes that funding scholarships will help ensure that Otterbein is not only accessible for future students — but that it will help make sure faculty members are able to continue offering the kind of caring support that was critical to her success.

Annie credits Otterbein for helping start her along a path of education and service. Among a lifetime of contributions to advance a greater good, Annie has owned and operated Gentle Wind Books and Gifts; she has volunteered alongside mental health counselors and at a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence; and is one of the founding mothers of Amethyst, a safe and stable environment for recovering drug- and alcoholdependent women to maintain sobriety.

I’m a lifelong learner. Sometimes you go to a place and feel like you belong. That feeling and the openness there were really important to me.