Generous Gift Supports Pride Center and Its Students
Lance Kissler came to Eastern Washington University and discovered his community.
“I found my second family here,” Kissler says of his two-decades-long journey as an Eastern student, alumnus, employee, volunteer and donor.
The longtime human rights advocate, and former associate vice president of university relations, recently made a generous naming gift to the Pride Center. The gift, which created the Eagle Pride Center Empowerment Fund, helps to ensure that Eastern’s LGBTQ+ Eagles have a safe space to find their own community for years to come.
An Oct. 25 ceremony celebrating the renamed ‘Eagle’ Pride Center brought together members of the campus community.
Kissler bypassed the opportunity to put his own name on the center, saying, “Naming it the Eagle Pride Center gives it the opportunity to continue to have its own identity and for students to find their own identity there.”
At the end of the day, Kissler says, Eagle Pride is something we all have in common.
“We’re so thankful for Lance’s gift to the center, not just for the students it serves now but also for the legacy it leaves for the future,” says Barb Richey ’92 and ’99, vice president of EWU University Advancement and executive director of the EWU Foundation.
Richey, who has known Kissler for more than 20 years, says he exemplifies the meaning of philanthropy. “His passion for Eastern and his commitment to his community creates beautiful synergy.”
Nihtawneemiw “Naite” Boham, manager of the center, echoes that sentiment, saying that Kissler’s generous gift sends a message of love and support.
“We’re just so grateful,” Boham said. “I think it’s going to be a really great way to get students involved and provide them with more opportunities for growth and engagement.”
Kissler, who grew up in Odessa, Washington, arrived at Eastern as a first-generation student on an academic scholarship. He served as an Eagle ambassador while earning a bachelor’s degree in graphic communications in 2004 and went on to earn a master’s in communications in 2010.
Over the years, Kissler acquired an extensive collection of Eagle attire while working at Eastern, volunteering on its professional and college advisory boards, and attending every Eagle football game humanly possible. He even received the EWU Alumni Association’s Young Inspirational Alumnus Award in 2012.
Kissler’s Eagle affinity took flight when, as a young man in his early 20s, working a summer job in university relations, he was faced with a heart-wrenching dilemma.
On a Monday morning, Kissler woke to find that an event for the gay youth group he had recently joined had been photographed. Suddenly and without warning, he was on the front page of The Spokesman-Review.
Worsening the unexpected public outing, he says, was the fact that he hadn’t yet told his parents and some of his hometown friends he is gay.
“That was the catalyst for me to begin sharing with people who I had not told,” says Kissler, who immediately reached out to his supervisors in university relations, which included, at the time, Barb Richey.
“I just remember all of them being super supportive and saying, “What do you need? What can we do to help you? Do you need to take the day off?” Kissler recalls. “That was when I realized that, you know, I had a family here.”
A tough conversation with his parents followed, Kissler says, but, in the end, his mom and dad offered unwavering love and support for their son.
Having the support of his family and community was instrumental to Kissler’s success. As an Eastern graduate, he went on to key leadership positions at Pacific University, STCU and at EWU, where he also served as an adjunct instructor.
It also inspired him to help others who aren’t as fortunate. In 2016, Kissler established the Eagle Pride Fund to provide financial assistance and encouragement for LGBTQ+ students who might not receive support from home.
His many contributions include stepping up to serve on the Washington State Governor’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS; the Inland Northwest Business Alliance board of directors; Spokane’s Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs and the Spokane Human Rights Commission.
As Kissler begins a new chapter as executive director of marketing and communications for the College of Arts and Sciences at University of Washington, he is paving the way for a new generation of Eagles to succeed.
“I hope students can use the Eagle Pride Center as an opportunity to come together and support one another and invite people into it,” Kissler says.