The marvels of Molly Dobson
A loyal U-M donor for 48+ years and D-SIP supporter, her need to give back persists
By Anissa Gabbara | Photos by Marc-Grégor Campredon and Kat Walsh | Art by Nate Bynum
The story below includes mention of suicide that readers may find distressing.
To the Ann Arbor community, Molly Dobson (AB ’44) is a pioneering philanthropist. To U-M, she’s more than a loyal donor; she’s like family. Case in point: To the Dobson interns of the university’s award-winning Development Summer Internship Program (D-SIP)—whom she’s impacted tremendously—she’s something of a “fairy godmother.”
At 100 years old, Dobson’s generous spirit is as vibrant as ever. Just over three years ago, she was honored as the United Way of Washtenaw County’s 2020 Woman of the Year. Her presence in Ann Arbor, which she’s called home since she was 14, is in seemingly every part of town. Her impact can be traced back to the beginnings of the Ann Arbor City Club (formerly the Women’s City Club), Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Packard Health, Neutral Zone, and Washtenaw Community College’s Children’s Center (now closed)—just to name a few.
A life of service
Dobson’s dedication and unwavering commitment to philanthropy began early on in her career, starting from the days of fundraising door-to-door for the March of Dimes. Joining the U.S. Navy shortly after graduating from college helped her gain a more serious outlook on life, thus spawning a life of service.
“I think philanthropy needs to be a top priority on everyone’s list; it’s what the world is all about,” Dobson said. “I grew up in a family with a very generous mother and father who saw the need to help others.”
‘Viva la D-SIP’
As a proud alumna of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA), Dobson has endowed numerous scholarships at the university. She’s also supported various programs and initiatives across campus, including D-SIP, a 12-week paid development internship, with which she’s been involved since the program’s inception in 2007.
Each year, Dobson makes an annual gift to support four undergraduate U-M students who are selected and dubbed as “Dobson interns”—D-SIP interns working with Washtenaw County nonprofits.
“I love the university for investing in D-SIP, and I like to supplement their investment as best as I can,” Dobson said. “I’ve been part of this program from the very beginning, and I’ve just seen it grow and have seen the interest and enthusiasm on behalf of students. I think students aren’t exposed enough to big causes to be concerned about, participate in, and then support for the rest of their lives—whether it be individually, in person, or with funds.”
According to Jemika Ferguson, program director of D-SIP, Dobson is synonymous with the prestigious program, describing her as a “giant” leader in philanthropy despite being “tiny in stature.”
“You can’t mention D-SIP without mentioning Molly Dobson,” Ferguson said. “When I had the honor of meeting Molly, it felt as if she had been part of my life for years. She is passionate about inspiring students early in their college careers to give back to the community and find meaningful ways to change the world. As Molly would say, ‘Viva la D-SIP!'”
Seeing the need
When it comes to philanthropy, Dobson knows no boundaries. In addition to D-SIP, she’s been a long-time supporter of U-M’s Center for the Education of Women+ (CEW+), and also served on the board. She also endowed the CEW+ Molly H. Dobson scholarship, given to women whose education has been interrupted.
“It’s probably because I’m a woman, but I also see those needs that are out there; some are being resolved and some are being ignored,” Dobson said. “There’s a need for each of us women to realize that we can have a part in resolving those shortages.”
Another cause that resonates with Dobson is mental health. A dedicated donor to U-M’s Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg and Family Depression Center, she grew alarmed by the high suicide rates in schools and felt compelled to do something about it.
“I was concerned about suicide, particularly in high schools, and it was happening right here in Ann Arbor, so I wanted to contribute because this is a serious problem that needs to be recognized,” Dobson said. “I have a good friend whose daughter died by suicide, and I began to realize how much we ignore this problem in the school system. It’s grown so big and it needs resolution now.”
She’s also generously contributed to the Rogel Cancer Center—an area that hits close to home.
“My daughter died of cancer, so I feel that I can contribute on her behalf for as long as I live,” Dobson said.
Conviction and consistency
As Dobson reflected on her decades of giving, she shared her hopes going forward.
“The community needs more concern about their fellow man beyond their own limited borders, and finding a niche where they can help resolve some of those problems is crucial,” she said.
And when it comes to contributing to the causes she cares most about at U-M, she credits her strong conviction for being able to give on a consistent basis. She also recognizes that giving back goes beyond the dollar amount.
“If you don’t have the money, there are other ways to assist: your time, your energy, as well as introducing others to the need. You’ve probably seen lots of people just roll up their sleeves and dig in, and it’s impressive.”
A true testament
For Dobson, giving back is so innate that when asked about her legacy, she nonchalantly answers, “I don’t even think about it.” But, quite frankly, it speaks for itself. Just ask a former D-SIP intern.
“Having worked in the corporate world for several years, I reflect on D-SIP as one of the most unique and interesting work experiences I’ve ever had,” said Lania McManus (D-SIP 2014).
Joseph Sutkowi (D-SIP 2010) adds, “Molly showed us all what service and leadership can be. We have only yet seen the beginning of what D-SIP will contribute to the world.”