Wings of Hope Receives $2.5 Million Gift from Donald and Ruth Malvern Foundation

Malvern legacy will continue to fund hope and healing for years to come

Photo caption (above): Don Malvern & Larry Lemke in 2003.

In the summer of 2023, Wings of Hope received two gifts totaling $2,544,565, one from the Donald and Ruth Malvern Foundation ($27,142) and the other from Ruth Malvern Charitable Distribution Trust ($2,517,423). This is the largest charitable gift Wings of Hope has ever received. And it is fitting that it came during our 60th anniversary year, as Don and Ruth Malvern played outsized roles in shaping the history of Wings of Hope and helping us grow into the organization we are today.

Don Malvern joined Wings of Hope as chairman of the board and president in 1989, about a quarter-century after the organization was founded in 1963. Those first 26 years of the fledgling nonprofit’s existence were marked by growth but little consistent direction.

Longtime Wings of Hope volunteer Gene Pfautsch remembers when Don first joined Wings of Hope after retiring as president of McDonnell Aircraft Company.

“As my memory serves me, Joe Dobronski (part of Wings of Hope’s leadership at the time) invited Don to Wings of Hope sometime in 1988 or 1989. Don, after looking at the books, said, ‘You’re going broke.’”

Larry Lemke, who worked as a vice president under Don at McDonnell Aircraft and joined Wings of Hope in 1996, recalled that the organization was facing some “significant financial issues” before Don took the helm.

Don turned things around by bringing his professional experience and business skills to bear in his role as Wings of Hope’s new leader. He reorganized Wings of Hope into functions such as human resources and aircraft maintenance, established new protocols for generating revenue and applied cost-cutting measures.

“It is my firm belief,” said Pfautsch, “that Don Malvern saved Wings of Hope.”

Lemke concurred: “Don Malvern saved this place.”

Fred Meyland-Smith, current chairman of the Wings of Hope Board of Directors, offered his perspective on Don’s role as architect of a financially stable Wings of Hope:

For the first 25 years or so, Wings of Hope was an immature organization that was a collection of friends who were well-intentioned and were committed to helping people in need. But it was unstructured, it was undisciplined. It was just a collegial group of friends who founded an organization that was not a product of a strategic plan but invented on the fly.

Now you get this very accomplished executive from a major corporation who is retired. I suspect he felt like he still had a lot of gas in the tank — and because he was in the aviation industry and this is an aviation-based humanitarian organization, he came here. He provided the structure, the discipline, the deeper thinking, the strategic planning and developed a set of priorities and some business plans on how to continue to grow the organization.

In short, Don provided leadership.

Lemke said Don’s leadership inspired him to join Wings of Hope as a volunteer in 1996, eventually leading to his election as board chair after Don retired in 2004. He recalled the influence that Don had on the many McDonnell Aircraft retirees whom he recruited to join Wings of Hope.

“They were retired,” Lemke said. “They could have easily said, ‘Don, I’m going to play golf. I’m not going to get involved.’

“But that leadership, that relationship that he had with those people — including me — was a leadership that said, ‘This is an important thing for you in your life.’”

An influx of McDonnell Aircraft retirees soon followed Don to Wings of Hope.

Lemke said Don helped him reflect on how he wanted to spend his retirement years, which included running his company — and serving both his church and Wings of Hope.

He remembered thinking: “I’m going to spend the rest of my life doing three things, and one of them is Wings of Hope.”

Don retired as chairman for health reasons in 2004 and died in 2006.

Ruth shared her husband’s interest in aviation. She obtained her private pilot’s license in 1970 and was a member of The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots. She supported Don’s work at Wings of Hope and could often be found working alongside him.

Lemke recalled his first Wings of Hope Board meeting: “Ruth is there — and she’s taking notes.”

In the 17 years that followed Don’s passing until her death at 101 years of age in February 2023, Ruth continued to support Wings of Hope, both financially and through her participation in Wings of Hope events. She was a regular attendee at our annual gala.

Meyland-Smith has a distinct memory of Ruth from one of the last galas she attended in 2020. He was on stage helping with the Fund-a-Need portion of the event, in which guests are encouraged to raise their paddle for one final fundraising push.

“I was at the podium, and she was sitting to my left raising her paddle. I remember it like it was yesterday,” he recalled.

Lemke said Ruth was always the first to raise her paddle at the many galas she attended, and that night was no different. He was sitting at Ruth’s table.

“At one point, she looks over at me and then she reaches in her purse and pulls out a checkbook and says, ‘Have you got a pen?’ She wrote out the check for $10,000 and gave it to me to give to Fred.”

Don and Ruth’s legacy of service and generosity to Wings of Hope culminated in their final gift to the organization on Ruth’s passing.

“At the end of her life, I can just visualize Ruth at the table raising her paddle for $2.5 million,” said Lemke.

He sees the Malvern’s gift as one final set of marching orders from the couple who devoted so much of their lives to supporting the organization’s good work.

“I would say that the $2.5 million is Don and Ruth’s way of saying we want to continue to provide hope and healing to the hurting people of the world. That’s what Wings of Hope was about from the very beginning — and that’s what it continues to be about today.”

Consider Wings of Hope in your legacy planning. When you include Wings of Hope in your estate plan, your generosity ensures that Wings of Hope can change and save lives through the power of aviation well into the future. Discover more at

Ruth Malvern & Jean Murry
Ruth Malvern & Larry Lemke
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