Press release from UNC Asheville:
UNC Asheville has received a bequest of $2.5 million from the estate of Sally Birge, an Asheville native who died last year at the age of 80 in Pasadena, California, where she had lived and worked as a successful real estate agent. Birge had no surviving relatives and decided to use her fortune to support higher education in the community where she was born.
“This gift is Sally’s legacy,” said David Pierce, a California attorney who was her close friend, and managed her estate. “Growing up, Sally’s family was not wealthy and her parents separated when she was still in high school. Although she attended college briefly, she was unable to complete her education. Her legacy to the world is to provide for those who otherwise couldn’t afford a college education – to give them the benefit of her wealth. She had no children and wanted to provide for other children to go to college.”
“It is very moving to have a native daughter, even though she spent most of her life elsewhere, use her fortune to help Asheville’s university,” said Carla Willis, UNC Asheville vice chancellor for university advancement. “This incredible gift from Sally Birge is being placed in an endowment fund, so her legacy will continue to help students year after year. The fund will bring approximately $120,000 annually for UNC Asheville scholarships and scholarship-related purposes.”
Birge, née Sally Ann Goodman, was born in Mission Hospital in 1936, and when she was still a girl, her family relocated to Hickory, North Carolina, before settling in Knoxville, Tennessee. When her parents separated, she and her mother moved to Iowa. At the age of 18, she left home and moved to California, where she married John Birge, and the two operated a fried chicken business. The couple divorced in 1978.
Sally Birge was self-educated as a realtor, and her brokerage was centered in the Chapman Woods area of Pasadena, where she founded the community organization, Women of the Woods. She also became a mentor to younger women in the real estate business, and she served as a mentor to many of the single women she preferred to have as tenants in the one apartment building she owned.
Late in her life, Birge suffered a stroke that eventually robbed her of mobility and the ability to communicate. She died on Jan. 5, 2017 and was buried in her mother’s family plot in Cherokee, Iowa.