March 10 is Giving Blueday

March 8, 2021

For 24 hours, the entire university will come together and support the causes that make us the leaders and best. One of campus’ Wolverines — who’s worked for NBC, Dreamworks and Illumination Entertainment — shares why he gives.

 Giving Blueday 2021
Giving Blueday 2021

Living in a Los Angeles mid-century modern home surrounded by palm trees, Alumnus Gary Wohlleben’s life today looks almost nothing like it did when he was a UM-Dearborn student. 

And that’s why he gives on Giving Blueday.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here in this beautiful home in California if it wasn’t for the campus internship program, so I make a point to support it every year,” says first-generation college student Wohlleben, ‘66 B.B.A., who went out to California after graduation and used his UM-Dearborn business degree to start his career in Hollywood as a producer and financial controller. “When I went to NBC for my interview, luck would have it that the person interviewing me was a Michigan graduate too.”

Giving Blueday 2021, which will take place all-day Wednesday, is an opportunity for the UM-Dearborn community to come together and support what they love about campus. During the last Giving Blueday, nearly $100,000 was raised for campus causes like scholarships, centers, student organizations and more. 

"Giving Blueday is a chance for a lot of people to make a difference together," said Annual Giving Director Eva Gogola. As an added incentive, there are social media challenges and gift matches. "Philanthropy is personal, but I think it should also be fun. We've really embraced that at UM-Dearborn." 

For example, Gogola said there is a Giving Brewday Alumni Challenge where people post a photo on social media of themselves with a favorite brew (coffee, tea, beer, etc.) and use #GivingBrewday2021. Each hour from 4 to 7 p.m., one participant will be selected and will win $1,000 directed to the UM-Dearborn fund of their choice.

Gary Wohlleben, Bert Meza and pup Guinness
Photo of Gary Wohlleben, Bert Meza and pup Guinness

If Wohlleben — who’s worked on television shows like Little House of the Prairie and animated movies like the Shrek and Despicable Me series — participates in the challenge, he and husband Bert Meza could take a photo with Guinness, their pint-sized Welsh Corgi pup that’s a favorite in their home.

Over a Zoom call, Wohlleben shared interesting behind-the-scenes stories from popular movies and shows. The donkey in Shrek was modeled after a miniature one in Palo Alto named Perry. Wohlleben said the late actor Michael Landon was inspiring in how he balanced family, filming and growing his career into writing and producing: “He told me, ‘If you don’t put yourself out there and try, how will you know if you'd be any good?’” And when Wohlleben was tasked with finding ways to make the most out of the production budget, which was often his role in the operation, he relied on his education from UM-Dearborn.

“In all steps of my career, I always went back to one class in particular, The Theory of Accounting. So much of what I needed to know on making things financially work came from that class. My education has helped me for 50 years. That’s a pretty good return on investment,” said Wohlleben, who recently retired.

Knowing the doors that education opens, Wohlleben and Meza make it a point to connect with campus on Giving Blueday. They give to areas that promote experiential learning like COB’s Internship and Career Management Center and that support identity affirmation like UM-Dearborn’s LGBTQ+ Programs and Initiatives.

“I want students to continue to have these opportunities. We need to support what once supported us so it doesn’t go away,” Wohlleben said. “We all start from somewhere. And I consider Michigan as the place that helped me get to where I am today. That’s why I give.”