As the almost $2 million they had set aside began depreciating, Bill and Robbie Hedges were not worried about losing money but concerned about how to give more.
In 2005, Bill Hedges, 87, a former professor at the College of Education, and his wife, Robbie, 85, set up a fund of about $1.93 million that eventually will benefit research projects at the college.
However, after the money was set aside, its value quickly began to decline because of the stock market slump a few years later. After losing about $100,000, the Hedges decided an additional contribution was in order.
"The reason we added to it is that two or three years after we gave it to the university, the stock market dropped," Bill Hedges said. "So we thought, ‘Well shucks, we have a little extra money. Why don't we add to it?'"
The couple added $63,000 to their original contribution, which was funded by the sale of family-owned real estate.
The Hedges, both former teachers, set up the trust to fund research that will benefit children who fall behind in school and drop out before graduating. Bill Hedges said these students, whom he calls "invisible children," are becoming more common in the American education system, and nothing is being done to help them.
He said that after a year as a Fulbright lecturer at Chungnam National University in Daejon, Korea, he realized how many American students were falling behind. He said about 94 percent of children in Korea graduate from high school, while in Florida the figure is only about 67 percent. The national average is not much better.
"A third of our children never finish high school," Bill Hedges said. "A few years ago, the United States led the world. It's sad. Florida is a tragic case in terms of education."
The William D. and Robbie F. Hedges Research Fund was created as a charitable remainder unitrust, which means the funds benefit the Hedges and their family while they are alive, but after their lifetime, the remaining assets will go to research projects at the College of Education.
Because the funds are not directly available to the college at this time, no specific research programs are planned, but the Hedges said one area that is specifically important is researching preventative indicators that would allow teachers and parents to assess which students may be at risk.
"The early learning, that predates school even, is so important," Robbie Hedges said.
Elizabeth Bondy, professor and director of the School of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education, had Bill Hedges as a professor during her time as a doctoral student at UF. She said the donation is right on track with the goals of the college.
"It is such an important need in the state of Florida and across the nation," Bondy said.
Bondy said much of the research done at the College of Education is funded by outside grants, and the Hedges' contribution will be extremely valuable.
The $63,000 addition to the trust will increase the amount of interest collected and increase the amount of funding for future research - research the Hedges say is crucial to our nation.
"Ignorance and freedom don't go hand in hand," Bill Hedges said. "And with this high incidence of ignorance, you're jeopardizing your freedom. We are very, very concerned about it."