UCLA history professor Joan Waugh is one of the country’s pre-eminent scholars on American history in the latter half of the 19th century and in particular the Civil War. She’s also a lifelong baseball fan who during her class “United States History 1865–1900,” spends one lecture focused on how baseball became American’s national pastime.
Before Dorothy “Dottie” Wellman ’50 passed away in 2013, she told her nephew, William Proebsting, that she did not want an obituary or service of remembrance. If she had allowed such a tribute, it surely would have highlighted her exceptional generosity in giving $2.2 million—during her lifetime and through her estate—to the Department of History on the campus she loved.
A well-known and beloved UCLA alumna, Dottie had begun pledging annual gifts toward the establishment of an endowed chair in the department, a testament to her abiding passion for Medieval History and the love of her life, her late husband Bob Wellman ’53.
After Dottie passed away in 2013, Proebsting, as executor of her estate, distributed the remaining assets in accordance with her living trust, establishing the Robert and Dorothy Wellman Chair in Medieval History and the Robert and Dorothy Wellman Graduate Fellowship in the UCLA Department of History.
“We are deeply grateful to Dottie Wellman for this visionary gift. The UCLA History Department has a storied tradition of great medievalists, and the Wellman Chair and Fellowship will allow us to continue to build on that foundation of excellence,” said David N. Myers, Professor and Chair of the History Department.
Dottie and Bob met as undergraduates at UCLA. Bob had contracted polio in his late teens and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. According to Proebsting, it was love at first sight, and they married in 1957.
“I always loved Dottie because she was such a character: funny and irreverent,” Proebsting said. And when he first met Bob at a family gathering, he recalled a “wonderful, warm, funny guy with a big personality who charmed the socks off us.”
After he graduated with a degree in sociology, Bob worked in the Office of the Chancellor from 1954 until his retirement in 1988. He was special assistant to former chancellors Franklin Murphy and Charles E. Young, and UCLA’s first compliance officer for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Section 504. He also served as treasurer, secretary-treasurer and president of the Men’s Faculty Club (later known as Collegium Bibendi).
Dottie was devoted to Bob and eventually became his full-time caregiver in the years leading up to his death in 1997 at age 70. In the 1950s and ’60s, she worked as a part-time researcher and editor for “The University Explorer,” an innovative, nationally broadcast radio program that explored UC-led research topics ranging from the atom bomb to narcotics addiction to the search for the biblical city of Gath.
“Dottie was an English major and a voracious reader,” Proebsting said. “She especially loved to read about the history of medieval England, a passion that continued right up to her death.”
Dottie audited many history courses while she and Bob were at UCLA, including numerous lecture courses taught by Scott Waugh, a history professor and now Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost. She and Waugh struck up a friendship that continued even after she moved to Oregon to be near her family after Bob’s death.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Dottie wanted to give back to the campus that brought her and Bob so much joy,” Waugh said. “The Wellmans’ connection to UCLA was longstanding and deeply personal, so these generous endowments represent an enduring legacy that is more poignant than most.”
Of his aunt’s endowments to the history department, Proebsting, a retired Oregon State horticulture professor, said, “I’m really happy Dottie chose to do this because I know how much UCLA meant to her and Bob. It’s the perfect capstone for their lives.”
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