Skip to Content

Stanley and Helen Duffendack

Setting a High Bar for Generosity

Stan Duffendack describes his late parents Stanley and Helen Duffendack as “blue through and through”—so much so, that when Stanley passed away in 2006 and Helen in 2015, their obituaries both ended with “Go Blue!” It was this love of Michigan that was at the heart of their generosity to the university.

The Psychology Department, where Helen completed her BS (1941) and Stanley his MA (1948) and PhD (1954), recently received a gift of $108,000 from the Helen C. Duffendack Charitable Remainder Trust. This gift to the Psychology Discretionary Fund ensures that future generations of undergraduates and graduate students will benefit from the same rich education they enjoyed. The donation, their son explains, “reflects how much they loved the university and how fortunate they felt to have had that foundational experience in their lives.”

“They always had such fond memories of their time at Michigan,” the younger Stan recalls.  “They were appreciative of the education they received as well as the good cultural environment.” They were also, he notes, extremely proud of its heritage as a public institution. And of course, they were Michigan football fans throughout their lives.

Stan remembers his parents giving him the hard sell when it came time for him to choose a college. He had been accepted to Harvard, Colgate, and Michigan, but they told him he would have to work for his spending money if he chose either of the former schools, but not if he went to Michigan. It was an easy decision: “They always spoke so warmly and proudly of their time at Michigan; why would I want to go anywhere else?”

Like characters in a classic 1930s movie, Stanley and Helen met at the Frosh Ball and dated throughout college. Though born in Oklahoma, Stanley grew up in Ann Arbor with a physics professor father. Helen grew up in the Pittsburgh area and was drawn to Michigan in part for the reputation of its nursing program. They graduated together in 1941, Stanley with a degree in English and Helen in psychology. Helen went on to earn a degree from the School of Nursing in 1944 and Stanley completed a masters and PhD in clinical psychology.

During World War II, Stanley was a conscientious objector—instead of enlisting he served as a subject in experiments about the effect of diet on one’s ability to withstand cold temperatures. Stanley and Helen remained in Ann Arbor after they finished their educations, with Stanley working at the VA hospital and Helen beginning her career as an RN. Over the course of her career, Helen’s nursing work included psychiatry, home health, geriatrics, and women’s health.

In 1956, Standard Oil offered Stanley a job developing a management training program for the National Iranian Oil Company, teaching the staff modern business practices. Accepting the position, Stanley and Helen moved their children to Iran for two years. Their experience, as well as their travels in Asia before returning home, was life changing. In particular, it strengthened their charitable instincts. “Seeing such stark poverty in those societies was heart-wrenching,” their son explains. They came away with a better appreciation of what they had and an understanding that making a few individual donations wasn’t enough to make an impact.

Upon returning to the US, Stanley took a job with General Electric, creating their management leadership program, and the family settled in New Canaan, Connecticut. Stanley remained with GE for the rest of his career and authored the book Effective Management Through Work Planning, published in 1970. While still raising her children, Helen channeled her skills and energy into volunteer work, especially working with Planned Parenthood, about which she was very passionate. After they retired, Stanley and Helen lived in Hilton Head, South Carolina and then near Madison, Wisconsin.

According to the younger Stan, his parents didn’t explicitly explain how they made their decision to give so generously to U of M and to the Department of Psychology, but he easily surmises their motivation: “They felt that both the education and the living experience at the university shaped their lives together as well as individually and they wanted to give back so others could enjoy the same experience.” He adds, with a rueful chuckle, that it won’t be easy for him to match their generosity: “They set a very high bar.”