By Colleen Cason
Most everyone suffers a bout of guilty conscience now and then.
Twenty-five years ago, Allison Clago ’18 still had a nagging $3,000 debt to Cal Lutheran from the early 1980s. What she’s done since then to correct the situation is beyond ordinary.
The high-powered Beverly Hills financial adviser, now a Class of 2018 alumna, has repaid and repaid again.
A Los Angeles native, Clago first enrolled at CLU in 1980 as a political science major and started earning good grades. In her third year, though, she quarreled with her parents and rebelled by dropping out, she said. She walked away from the debt she owed the university.
When she found a job in the brokerage industry, she quickly discovered she loved the work. Now 58, she has risen to managing director of investments at Wedbush Securities.
On her early morning commute in 1993, her thoughts turned to gratitude for all she had. Clago traced her success to the quality of education she received at Cal Lutheran years earlier: “My education was so special. There was nothing like it.”
Not long after her rush-hour epiphany, she contacted the business office only to be told that no record of the debt existed. She insisted she owed the money, and after business office staff dug through storage, Clago’s records surfaced.
With one check she quieted her conscience. But then her heart spoke up, and she wrote a second check, donating $5,000 for a scholarship to assist young women considering a career in the brokerage industry.
“Finance is a man’s world. To compete, a woman must be so much better, always at the top of her game,” she said.
Over the years, she has opened the Clago Family Scholarship to other fields in finance and to male recipients, and has contributed so much that the scholarship can be awarded for generations to come. Thus far, 16 students in all and as many as three at a time have benefitted from this renewable award.
“I don’t know anyone who owed us money and started giving in that way,” said Kristine Calara, associate vice president for university advancement.
Clago, who underwent chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer, found the treatment “barbaric.” “There’s got to be a better way than poisoning and nuking the body,” she said.
A year ago, she gave $100,000 to fund a lab at Cal Lutheran’s proposed science center to train young people on the Thousand Oaks campus to find better ways to treat life-threatening illnesses.
She also gave $100,000 each to two organizations that helped save her life, the John Wayne Cancer Institute and Providence Tarzana Medical Center.
The story behind these donations involves a bad experience at a car showroom. Clago earns enough to pay cash for one of the most luxurious of all automobiles, a Bentley, and had planned to own one. That was until a salesman directed his attention to her boyfriend – even though Clago was the one who would have paid for the more than $300,000 ride.
The salesman’s attitude prompted her to rethink the purchase. While she felt pride that she could afford the status symbol, she already had two fine cars.
“Enough is enough,” she said.
Instead, she divided the money she would have spent on the Bentley into thirds to be donated in support of cancer treatment and student research.
While she’s in the fight against cancer for the long haul, her quarrel with her late parents was short-lived, she said. Years ago, Clago mended fences with them. She honored their dedication to charity by forming the Clago Family Foundation. The new science lab will bear that name.
Clago’s generosity to the university took on a new dimension recently when she announced she would leave it a healthy portion of her multimillion dollar estate.
“She is a wonderful example of philanthropy and the kind of donors we work with at Cal Lutheran,” Calara said.
In keeping with a vow she made to her mother, Clago returned to the university after a more than 35-year hiatus to earn a bachelor of science degree in business administration.
Once again, she broke the mold. Instead of completing her requirements through the Bachelor’s Degree for Professionals program, she enrolled as a traditional undergrad, explained Robyn Ballard, academic and student support coordinator.
“She took classes alongside teenagers and young adults rather than with peers of similar backgrounds,” Ballard said.
Clago admits it was rough juggling her workload, commuting to Thousand Oaks from her westside office and fulfilling her foreign language requirement.
“Can’t I just buy the diploma?” she would joke.
She had help, though. She sings Ballard’s praises for streamlining her path to graduation. She thanks CLU undergrads for their courtesy as well as her instructors — particularly art professor Michael Pearce — for inspiring her to stick with it.
“For her to come back and persevere is a testament to her will and dedication,” Calara said.
The same voice that nagged Clago to go back and repay her student debt now motivates her to pay it forward for all she has received.
Said Clago, “When we stretch our boundaries, we can leave a footprint on this world that is better and greater than when we came into it.”
Colleen Cason is an award-winning journalist and longtime columnist for the Ventura County Star. A Thousand Oaks resident, she has served as adviser to The Echo student newspaper and currently edits Central Coast Farm & Ranch magazine.