Tracy Hickman and Chad Munger are Michigan State University alumni. They own Mammoth Distilling and multiple tasting rooms in northern Michigan, and they live on Torch Lake with two Newfoundlands—Banks, named after the banks of the Red Cedar, and Dawson, named after former Michigan State University basketball player, Branden Dawson. But, their story together began years earlier, when they met at MSU. Both Hickman and Munger were pursuing their undergraduate degrees—Interior Design for Hickman and English for Munger.
Munger and Hickman dated during college. Their relationship morphed into friendship, and they kept in touch for a decade before reuniting in Chicago. In the late 90s, they added their first of what would become multiple dogs together including three that served as witnesses in their wedding. Today, the memory of one Newfoundland in particular helps keep them connected to MSU: Dewey.
In December 2018, Hickman and Munger established the Dewey Memorial Endowed Scholarship to help recruit top students to the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine professional program. Initially, two students will benefit from this support throughout their education. As the $1.3 million endowment grows, the Dewey Scholarship will help bring even more outstanding students to MSU.
The scholarship represents everything that Dewey was—determined and one-of-a-kind. Hickman and Munger recall Dewey’s favorite activities, which included long family hikes and retrieving rocks from the lake, which he used to build rock piles on the beach. “He would do that for hours,” says Hickman. “He rolled them out from the bottom of the lake and stacked them up.”
“He was a prominent part of our lives. He was with us when we built the home that we live in now,” agrees Munger. “He’s part of this place for us.”
Hickman and Munger understand the financial and emotional burdens that veterinary care can impose on pet owners and that veterinary medical training can place on students, which is why they decided to donate to the College and support the next generation of veterinary professionals.
“Dewey had random—and sometimes unfortunate—health events, a number of which we treated at MSU, and we really appreciated the care and attention he got there,” says Munger. “We always associate MSU and Dewey because they extended his life a number of times and by considerable amounts. The quality of care that he got, and the quality of the people being trained at MSU, is obvious. We came to know many of those people and admire what they do.”
Hickman agrees. “Dewey was such a big dog in our life that we wanted to memorialize him with a big gesture. We want to make sure the very best students who want to be part of the MSU program can afford to do so and will continue to make Michigan State a fabulous place to learn veterinary medicine, and grow to be outstanding caregivers and champions for all animals.”
Giving back to animals and people
For both Hickman and Munger, their love for animals is rooted in how they grew up. As a child, Hickman’s family owned a sweet, and locally infamous, sheepdog that kept the Hickmans in touch with their neighbors. Munger grew up in rural St. Johns, Michigan, where his family owned dogs and horses. As a young adult, he even thought about becoming a marine biologist.
“Growing up in a rural environment gives you lots of direct contact with animals and lots of opportunities to watch other people interact with domestic animals and wildlife, and I’m very interested in research,” says Munger. The College isn’t the only beneficiary of Hickman and Munger’s love for animals. They also support wildlife research and care at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago including support for a canine rabies vaccination campaign in Africa that helps protect humans, dogs, and wildlife. “Our dogs are inseparable members of our family and they have played an important role in the growth of the relationship between Tracy and me,” says Munger. “We are also fortunate to have seen firsthand the many different relationships people develop with and the benefits humans receive from their lives with animals and wildlife.”
This shared interest is one of the reasons why Hickman and Munger have framed much of their generosity around the human-animal bond.
“Every time we visit the MSU Veterinary Medical Center, we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to afford the care that MSU is able to provide,” says Munger. “But, we also have the experience of seeing people right next to us, who are struggling more than we do. That experience makes me feel very lucky—that we have had the resources, time, and awareness to benefit from all that MSU has to offer families with animals. Those experiences have really motivated Tracy and me to try to give back. Sometimes, it’s not so easy for other people and their animals.”
Because of their experience working with the College and its alumni, Hickman and Munger are doing their part to support veterinary medical practice.
“All the vets we’ve seen in Michigan have been graduates from Michigan State including cousin Lisa Hickman, and we very much appreciate their care,” says Munger. “Like most Spartans, we’ve always known that the vet school has a very good reputation nationally, and the more we have learned about what’s going on at the College, the more we have realized what a struggle it is to stay in the top tier of programs. We’re proud Spartans, so we want to do our share to make sure MSU stays on top.”