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Dogged Devotion

“I’ve always felt a little bit guilty about the fact that I might love dogs more than I love people."

Charles and Gloria Fricke pet an adorable brown dog

Dogged Devotion

At a glance, you might think there is nothing unusual about Charles Fricke’s life story.

He grew up near Chicago. He studied electrical engineering and engineering administration at Michigan Technological University, and earned an MBA from Bradley University. He went to work in the electric utility industry. He climbed the ladder all the way to CEO for a few different utilities, then retired from Traverse City Light and Power.

He stumbled across the field of forensic electrical engineering soon after, and the intrigue was enough to pull him out of retirement. He started his own firm, and spent a few years investigating fire scenes to determine whether the fire was caused by electrical failure.

Now retired again, Charles and his wife Gloria divide their time between Traverse City and Florida, while here in East Lansing, Charles’ legacy goes to the dogs.

Wait. What?

That’s the unusual part: that a retired electrical engineer from Traverse City—with no previous connection to Michigan State—would make a charitable bequest of over $10 million to the College of Veterinary Medicine, to help young people pursue their dreams of caring for animals.

But it seems less unusual once you’ve heard the story of Charles’ life outside the world of utility companies and fire investigations. That story is about his devotion to dogs.

“I’ve always felt a little bit guilty about the fact that I might love dogs more than I love people,” Fricke admits. It shows. He speaks about his career with enthusiasm; but he speaks about his own pet dogs, and his volunteer work with various branches of the Humane Society, with what can only be described as true passion.

His time as president of the Chattahoochee Humane Society in Columbus, GA, is just one example of his devotion. In addition to helping with adoptions and cruelty investigations, Charles once spearheaded a rescue operation, breaking into the city pound with news media in tow, to feed animals that had been neglected. Thanks to his action, the Humane Society was able to file a lawsuit that resulted in a new pound and a new animal control officer, impacting the lives of many homeless animals for the better.

So when Charles dove into the process of planning his estate in 2010, it made perfect sense that his lifetime of hard work should culminate in an endowment that would, literally, go to the dogs. And he found the ideal place for that endowment in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“I decided I wanted to find a balance between helping animals and helping people,” Charles says. “Those two lines happen to cross in the veterinary field, where people are the ‘boots on the ground,’ on the front line of animal care.”

Less than six months after he made his first-ever call to MSU, the Charles R. Fricke Endowed Scholarship Fund was born through a charitable bequest in the Fricke’s estate plans, along with MSU Foundation charitable gift annuities, which helped meet his family’s needs and those of MSU. Thanks to his subsequent yearly contributions, the fund is growing, providing tuition assistance that will give current and future vets and vet tech students a leg up when they start their careers.

This year, the Frickes’ generosity earned them the College of Veterinary Medicine’s inaugural Philanthropist of the Year award, and they traveled to campus to accept it and meet some of the students.

One of them was Laken Harper, a senior who is one semester away from graduation and a career as a veterinary technician.

“I was probably three years old when I knew that working with animals was what I wanted to do,” Laken says. “I knew I wanted to come to Michigan State, because they were always the best known for veterinary medicine.

 “I don’t think I would have done as well in school if it weren’t for the support I received from my scholarship,” Laken adds.

That certainly makes Charles and Gloria proud.

“Laken is representative of the qualities of all of the people in the veterinary program,” Charles says. “The faculty, the staff, the students—they’re out there working so hard to help animals and help each other. They have earned our support, and our hearts burst with joy to watch them fulfill their dreams, and know that they’re going to care for the animals that we all love.”

Learn more about Laken Harper, and see her in action.

For more information about making a gift to the College of Veterinary Medicine, contact Senior Director of Development Tim Stedman at stedman@msu.eduor call (517) 353-8722.

For more information on all types of planned gifts, contact the Office of Gift Planning at 800-232-4678 or visit

Author: Devon Barrett