In Plain Sight, Impactful Flights

While her connection to Albion is through family, her gift of airline miles provides nonstop rewards.

September 3, 2020 | By Chuck Carlson

Kristy Ekleberry (right) with her daughter and recent Albion grad, Ellery Ekleberry, ‘18.

Kristy Ekleberry likes to travel. A lot.

And everywhere. Often.

“There might be wine glasses I’d like to buy that I can’t find in the U.S. but I know I can find them in Milan, so I’d fly to Milan,” she says.

Her first around-the-world trip was in 2004 and she has tried to do one every other year since. She will fly to Japan and she will fly to Paris and she will fly around the country to visit her children. And, along the way, she will accrue airline miles, which can be redeemed for free flights through American Airlines, that she used to give to family members and friends.

Now she’s donating those free miles to help Albion College students for everything from trips home to attending conferences.

“I was looking for another way that would benefit the school that was unconventional,” Ekleberry said. “I know we sent a student to Europe for an opera program. I know we sent one alumnus to receive an award at Albion. Earlier this spring, we were able to bring someone home for [COVID-19]. And another one was able to get home because they missed a flight home.”

A native of Jackson, Mich., who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, Ekleberry’s interest in Albion runs long and deep even though she’s not an alumna.

Her late ex-husband, Rick, ’84, graduated from Albion as did her daughter Ellery, ’18.

“Rick always spoke very highly of Albion,” she says. “And Ellery started in [retired President] Mauri Ditzler’s first year. It was amazing. She got on that campus and it felt really good to her. I remember when she received her acceptance letter. She was excited every time she got accepted to a college, but when she opened the letter from Albion it was different. The mail came and there’s a big envelope for her saying she’d been accepted, and she started crying. And later, when she said she didn’t know which school to pick, I said, ‘The thing is, there was one school that when you opened your acceptance letter, you cried. And that was Albion.’”

Ellery went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in fine arts and will now be attending the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for a post-baccalaureate certificate in ceramics.

“Ellery’s experience at Albion was fantastic,” Kristy says. “She grew so much as a student and as a woman, and a lot of that came from Albion.”

So when Ekleberry saw the opportunity to help students, her thoughts naturally went to what she does most and loves best—travel.

“There’s always fundraising for schools, I always traveled and there were miles available,” says Ekleberry, who began her assistance in 2017. “So when I started thinking about Albion and knew that they wanted to bring in more kids from other parts of the country, I knew flying would be an issue.”

And when there is an opportunity to assist, she talks with Chris Berry, Albion’s assistant dean of students, who will send her the student’s information so she can book the flight.

Berry remembers the first student who was helped.

“It was a first-year student who was coming from Texas, and there was a backup on the highway due to an accident on their way to the airport and he missed his flight here,” Berry says. “It was a nonrefundable purchase so we booked him another flight while he was waiting at the airport.”

Berry estimates six to eight students have received assistance with the donated miles.

“The first goal is to help students who have travel issues to strategize and problem-solve on their own,” Berry says. “So when we make this available, we’ve already worked with them to solve the problem and we know there’s a real need. And this is one example of an issue that may pop up more often now that our students have more financial need. We are very appreciative of Kristy’s support.”

Over the years, Ekleberry has built up more than 5.5 million miles and, at the moment, has around 2 million available.

“I don’t feel like I’m doing that much,” she says. “But Albion thinks it’s beneficial so I’m happy to do it. There are needs out there. You just need to look where you can help out in different ways and you find your niche.”