January 11, 1999 12:00 PM

For the 15 years that Regina Jennings swept, dusted, polished and mopped the halls and classrooms of the West Virginia University College of Law at Morgantown, Prof. Franklin Cleckley felt her greatest contribution to the school was her gracious-ness. “She treated everyone as if they were special,” he says.

But since the 75-year-old Jennings made a stunning $93,000 gift to the university last October, Cleckley and his colleagues have come to see the former daytime custodian in a new light: as one of the biggest contributors in the school’s 120-year history. “I was shocked,” admits Dean John W. Fisher II. “Her motivation is simple kindness.”

For Jennings, who retired from her $10,000-a-year job in 1989, donating money to her former employer seemed only natural. “Everyone there was so nice to me, it felt like a family,” she says. Her husband, R.W. Barker, 77, a retired bowling alley owner, is happy about the gift. “It pleases her,” he says. “And it was her money.”

The third of four children born to a farm family in Evansville, W.Va., Jennings worked for years as a waitress and maid before being hired by the law school in 1974. Most of the money she gave to the university came from the sale of a rental house she inherited in 1977.

Married to Barker in 1980, she lives with her husband in an antique-filled Victorian house they share with their dog, Apples, and two cats, Missy and Little Red. And though she is pleased that the law school’s new computer room will bear her name, Jennings, a longtime animal lover, seems serious when she says she would rather not see her picture on the wall. “They should hang Apples’ picture instead,” she says.

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