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Former Gov. Jim Blanchard is hoping to inspire statesmanship among Michigan State University students through a $1 million gift that will be used to provide an annual public service award and a lecture series.

The recipient of the Spartan Statemanship Award for Distinguished Public Service — given annually to one person who could be in politics, diplomacy or public service nationally or locally — will be the featured speaker during a yearly forum. The recipient will be not a student, MSU officials said.

“The overarching goal of this gift is to inspire future generations of Spartan statesmen in much the same way I was inspired as a young man in Ferndale and at MSU. So were many of my fellow Spartans,” said Blanchard, the first MSU graduate to serve as governor of Michigan. “The award and forum will honor those who have distinguished themselves in politics, diplomacy, public service and journalism, and it will give students and the larger community a chance to meet them and be energized by them.”

Blanchard’s gift to inspire another generation of civic leaders follows in the footsteps of other political leaders, including John Dingell, the recently retired longest-serving member of Congress, who will serve as a guest lecturer and scholar in residence at the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus. Meanwhile, Wayne State University is creating the Carl Levin Center at the law school to honor Levin, the state’s longest-serving U.S. senator, who retired in January after a record six terms.

Blanchard’s involvement, though, comes with the $1 million gift from him and his wife, Janet, which will be administered by the Department of Politcal Science in the College of Social Science.

In the past five years, MSU has received 168 gifts of $1 million or more. At the same time, the university is the recipient of more than 100,000 gifts per year.

“It’s pretty extraordinary to be getting a million dollars from someone,” spokesman Rick Seguin said.

A Detroit native, Blanchard earned a bachelor’s degree in social science in 1964 and an MBA in 1965 from MSU. He also earned a juris doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1968. A Democrat, Blanchard served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He became the 45th governor of Michigan and served two terms before losing a re-election bid to John Engler in 1990.

After leaving the governor’s office, Blanchard served as U.S. ambassador to Canada from 1993 to 1996, then joined the law firm of DLA Piper LLP. Then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher presented him with the Foreign Affairs Award for Public Service for his work as an ambassador, making him among a handful of ambassadors to receive the prestigious award.

“Jim Blanchard has left an indelible mark in the world of public service,” said Charles Ostrom, chairman of MSU’s Department of Political Science. “With this very generous gift, the award and corresponding forum will provide our department the great opportunity to impact future generations of public service leaders, and at the same time it continues and enhances Governor Blanchard’s own legacy. We are thrilled and eager to get started.”

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