A Calling to Make a Difference

Seattle man makes a landmark gift to the School of Theology and Ministry

Written by Mike Thee
Photography by John Lok
January 15, 2014
Asked why he decided to make a $1 million bequest to the School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle man Verle Bleese has a simple answer.
“Because I wanted to," he says. “No light came on, I did not have a vision. It was just a feeling that I was doing something that will make a difference for good in this world.”
It was about six years ago that Bleese first became involved with the School of Theology and Ministry by way of an introduction by his former pastor at First United Methodist Church, David Aasen. Realizing the importance of the school, “I started to make monetary contributions and gradually got deeper and deeper with my involvement,” he says. “I strongly believe [the school] is a very worthy organization, one that we certainly need in the community, so I decided I would help them as much as I am able."
Understated as he is about the gift, Bleese's impact will surely be felt. The endowment will generate $45,000 annually to be split between the Verle Bleese Dean's Scholars' Fund and the Verle Bleese Dean's Faculty Development Fund. He is leaving it up to Dean Mark Markuly to decide how to use his bequest.
“Verle has given a profoundly generous gift to the School of Theology and Ministry,” says Dean Markuly. “We are humbled and moved deeply by his thoughtfulness. His gift will allow the school to support ministry students in their educational costs. But it will also provide resources for faculty, who are charged with keeping their knowledge and skills as sharp as possible so we can continue to provide students a cutting edge education for a rapidly changing world.”

Born and raised in Fargo, ND, Bleese’s family moved to Seattle where he completed his senior year at Roosevelt High School. Following high school he went to the School of Pharmacy at the University of Washington, where he graduated in 1952. Having received his commission through the ROTC program he was off to active duty in the U.S. Army for 21 months; most of that time was spent in Korea with the 45th Infantry Division. After returning he was released from active duty and returned to the Army Reserve where he remained until his retirement, as a colonel.
Following his service Bleese went to work in the pharmacy industry. During the course of his working years he became a principal owner of two local pharmacies. After selling these pharmacies in the late 1980s, he worked for Payless Drugs and later Rite-Aid Pharmacy, retiring in 2010 at age 80.
This wasn't the only major milestone in Bleese's life that year. He got married—for the first time. "That added a whole new dimension to my life," he says with a laugh, adding these words of wisdom for those still seeking that special someone: "Don't give up hope—there's somebody out there somewhere. I met my [wife] Diane in church."
At 83, Bleese is enjoying retirement and married life. He is involved with Sand Point Community United Methodist Church, of which he is a member, as well as numerous service and fraternal organizations.
Returning as to why he chose to contribute so generously to the School of Theology and Ministry, Bleese points to Seattle as being one of the most un-churched cities in the United States as a factor. He also recognizes the growing number of adults who are seeking second careers as ministers and priests. And while there are other schools of theology in the area, he says the manner in which SU’s school goes about its work most resonates with him. He recalls a hymn written and composed by H. Ernest Nichol titled, "We've a Story to Tell to the Nations.” For Bleese, that says it all.

Verle Bleese Verle Bleese decided to give generously to the School of Theology and Ministry because he says he believes the school is "a very worthy organization, one that we certainly need in the community ..."