Giving for the past, present and future


- Sarah Tarnopolsky

Vikes Nation ambassador and third-year student Jordan Feist (right) regularly attends fitness and yoga classes in the Gwynne Studio, which was named by Linnea Turnquist (left). Credit: UVic Photo Services

Alumna Linnea Turnquist (BSc ’92) remembers her years at UVic as some of the best in her life. She made lasting friendships in residence, rowed for the Vikes and was inspired by her academic courses. “It felt like an explosion of growth, exploration and possibility,” she recalled. “And it set me on the path for life-long balance.”

In 2016, Linnea made a generous gift to the Centre for Recreation, Athletics and Special Abilities (CARSA) for the Gwynne Studio, named after the hamlet in Alberta where her family has deep roots. Linnea had recently moved to Victoria following the death of her second parent, and her gift to CARSA was Linnea’s way of honouring the impact they had on her. “I wanted my parents to have a marker to celebrate their lives other than a gravestone,” she said. “And I wanted it to be a place that held special meaning. A place that represented youth, vitality and possibility.”

Linnea and her daughter Vanessa added personal touches to the studio. A replica of a watercolour Linnea painted hangs on the wall to show “you don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be willing.” The large word cloud on the back wall was Vanessa’s idea and she created it with input from the Student Mental Health Committee. An affirmation for studio class attendees, “Explore the possibilities” is written in large letters above the mirrors on the front wall.

Finding a place to belong

Linnea reflected that she was feeling “uprooted” at the time she made the gift to CARSA. “I had lost both my parents. I was picking up and moving to a new city. [The donation] was about reflection, creating anchors.” Her intent was to create a space on campus for students where “they know they belong… If that space influences just one student’s life, then I know my gift has made a difference.”

Linnea witnessed just that on the day the studio opened.

“UVic had organized a free yoga class and I gave a short speech. I said, ‘when you are far away from home and you want to come somewhere and know you are safe and you belong, I want you to come here.’ Right after, a student came up to me and told me. ‘I am far away from home. My parents died recently. And this is exactly where I am going to come.’”

And in that moment, I just thought... This now, this is worth it. Just to know that one student had a safe place to come and feel she belonged.”

—Linnea Turnquist

A legacy gift for evolving needs

Linnea became more concerned about the mental health and wellness of students when her own daughter started university in Vancouver. When Vanessa shared with her mother how so many students in her peer group were struggling with anxiety or depression, Linnea realized how much the university experience had changed since her time at UVic.

Sure, I remember the stress of exams, or jitters before a race, but I don’t ever remember having to talk about mental health or suicide. Youth today have a lot more that they need to manage mentally and emotionally.”

—Linnea Turnquist

Linnea decided to make a bequest in her will directed towards mental health initiatives at UVic. She left the exact terms of that gift open so it can be responsive to future challenges.

“There’s no scholarship or bursary stipulated in the bequest,” said Linnea. “The important piece for me is that the gift will support initiatives as they evolve and change over the years.” When the gift is realized, the university can determine what requires support in that area.

A catalyst for other gifts

While Linnea’s gift to CARSA was about honouring her past, the bequest is her commitment to students of the future. Today, Linnea is starting to explore what else she can do to improve student health and wellness. As a business consultant specializing in strategic planning, Linnea intuitively thinks about the big picture and is looking to research, data and expert advice to inform her next gift to the university.

I know UVic is a leader in student mental health strategy. I’m interested in knowing what the big ideas are and what barriers exist to prevent UVic from realizing those ideas. What do we need to do to really make a difference?”

—Linnea Turnquist

And when she finds the mental health project or initiative that has the largest potential impact, she plans to share it with others who might also be looking for ways to make a difference.

“It’s equally rewarding for me to help others see [how they can help] and bring them along with me,” she said. “Being in university these days is really tough. So, let’s make it a little bit easier.”

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Keywords: philanthropy, mental health, alumni, athletics, community, exercise, student life, Vikes

People: Linnea Turnquist

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