Dec. 21, 2022
Doug Norton ’66 believes everyone should make three philanthropic gifts each year to causes important to them.
“It seems important to me to have some consistency and some regularity in that,” he said. “So I've always argued that it's important to have a top three. Culver falls into the category for me.”
As a teenager growing up in Oklahoma, Norton wanted to attend Culver Military Academy because he thought it would help him get into the Air Force Academy. He applied to an organization that offers scholarships to high school students interested in attending a military academy hoping it would help pay for him to go to Culver. But that fell through because they only accepted post-graduate applications that year.
“That landed like a cast iron cloud in my house,” he said.
But he already had been in touch with Culver, and the Academy offered Norton a scholarship endowed by aviation pioneer Reuben Fleet, Class of 1906.
Norton started classes as a junior at Culver less than two weeks later. Norton, an Air Force Academy graduate, has no doubt he couldn’t have reached his goals if Fleet hadn’t been so generous.
“The fact that he made the contribution to Culver allowed me to go there. I've never forgotten,” he said. “It is important for Culver to have that kind of financial flexibility to help students who might not otherwise be able to attend Culver.”
Norton is retired after 14 years in the Air Force as an intelligence officer, 18 years working for NASA and 11 years in the private sector working primarily in business development. He lives in Toronto with his wife, Susan Fruchter, who is chief operating officer of the Royal Ontario Museum.
Norton said it’s easy for people to think that they’ve reached where they are in life on their own.
“We have benefited from everybody that we’ve been involved with throughout our lives. And Culver has been an important part of that if you're a graduate of the Academy. So, it's good to remind yourself every once in a while that what happened 50 years ago has a continuing impact in your life today,” he said.
Norton said he makes his contribution to the Culver Fund because it goes directly to scholarships and programs, faculty salaries and facilities upkeep, the most important priorities of Culver Academies.
“I see it as a flexible pool of funding for the leadership of Culver to use wherever they need it, whenever they need it,” he said.
Norton supports Culver because he believes it provides students with a strong foundation.
“They are well-rounded when they come out. They have an opportunity to try things, experiment with their leadership style, grow with their interaction with the diverse student body of the school, and learn from the faculty and staff,” he said. “It's important for adolescents in my mind to try things out and find out what they're good at. You never know what you're good at until you try a few things and fail and try some other things and succeed.”
He recalls that when he was at Culver he wanted to build a shock tube as a senior project – he calls it a case of enthusiasm over practicality. His plan was to put an airplane wing model on one end of a vacuum tube and blast some air past it at supersonic speed to see how the shock wave went past it. He soon found out the project would cost far too much.
But Norton’s father was in the Air Force and introduced him to someone who worked with shock tubes, and he was given a tour of the laboratory.
“The experiment I wanted to do at Culver failed, but that led to a new opportunity outside. So, this experimentation and growth is an important part of the Culver education,” he said.
He also likes how Culver places emphasis on leadership, ethics, and academics.
Because he was interested in military school, he said, talking to Col. John Edgell, an English instructor who later became dean of the Academies, was invaluable.
“Being able to have conversations and sometimes guidance from a retired senior military officer was an important factor in my mind,” he said. “He could provide advice and guidance and have a perspective that was important to me.”
Norton said Lt. Col. Fred Lane -- who was a master instructor in chemistry, as well as Science Department chair and the director of Woodcraft Camp -- also was an important mentor.
“He had a different perspective that I remember to this day,” Norton said. “There's a whole raft of people who have an unexpected influence on your life as you grow up.”
Norton said he wrote Fleet a handwritten note every semester thanking him for funding his scholarship, but he never met Fleet, who died in 1975. Norton said he “didn’t at the time really reflect on who he was.”
“I was running hard trying to keep up with academics and athletics and leadership and everything else, I frankly didn't spend as much time doing the research as I should have,” he said.
Norton said he learned a lot about Fleet later in life when he served as a docent at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. He learned that Fleet started airmail service between New York and Washington and founded Consolidated Aircraft, which built the B-24 bomber during World War II.
Norton considers himself a proud Culver graduate, serving as president of the class of 1966. He recalls going to his 50th reunion and during the ceremony he walked through the Iron Gate and Head of Schools John Buxton said to him: “‘You really ran 400 meters at 50.4 seconds?”
Norton replied: “Yeah, but I can't do it now.”
But it struck him that Buxton went to the trouble to find something to say about each person about their time at Culver.
“I think that says wonderful things about the faculty and management of the Academy,” he said.
It’s another reason why Culver is in his top three.