Historic $12.6 million gift from Carol Cope estate will benefit UNK, UNL

Longtime Kearney resident and philanthropist Carol Cope once spoke of how much she enjoyed giving to projects that do the most good.

Together with her husband, Ron, Cope fulfilled that vision, supporting the University of Nebraska for more than half a century. Now the Copes’ impact on the university will stretch even further thanks to a historic gift from Carol Cope’s estate.

NU announced this week that Cope’s estate has made a $12.6 million gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation to provide permanently endowed support for students, faculty and programs at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“This is the largest single gift in the history of the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and we are truly grateful for the generosity of the Copes,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen. “This gift will forever change this institution.”

The gift establishes multiple permanently endowed funds that will generate annual support for student scholarships, faculty awards, academic programs and more. Of the total gift, $11.6 million benefits UNK and $1 million is directed to UNL for endowed faculty professorships.

“This gift is a blend of generosity and vision that will significantly impact students for decades to come,” Kristensen said.

University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken said: “The Kearney community, UNK and the University of Nebraska are unquestionably stronger because of the vision and generosity of Ron and Carol Cope. Their gifts have made higher education more affordable for generations of students, significantly enhanced our facilities and improved programs for our alumni. This most recent gift from Carol Cope’s estate – the largest in UNK’s history – will provide even more support for the university’s greatest assets: our students and faculty. I am deeply grateful to the Copes for their long history of generosity, which will benefit UNK and Nebraska well into the future.”

Carol Cope’s legacy was celebrated Sept. 5 at UNK’s Carol Cope Day, the Lopers’ football season opener against visiting Washburn University. The gift was recognized during halftime of the game.

Carol Cope was involved in numerous organizations and foundations at local and state levels. She died on her 103rd birthday on Sept. 13, 2012.

Brian Hastings, president and CEO of the NU Foundation, said, “This most generous gift represents the lasting legacy of Ron and Carol Cope at the University of Nebraska. The magnitude of its effect will be felt by generations of students and educators. Even years from now, students will continue to be known as proud Cope scholars.”

The Cope estate has directed the gift be broken down as follows:

  • Ron and Carol Cope UNK Excellence Fund – a $4.6 million endowed fund to enable UNK to direct support to high-priority projects across campus.
  • Cope Stadium – $3 million to complete an earlier commitment made by the Copes to support UNK’s athletic expansion and recreation project.
  • Ron and Carol Cope UNK Scholarship – a $1.8 million endowed fund to provide about 20 annual scholarship awards of about $4,000 each, with half of the awards made to UNK College of Business and Technology students and half awarded to students in other colleges on campus.
  • Ron and Carol Cope UNK Athletics Scholarship – a $1 million endowed fund to provide 30 to 40 scholarships each year to UNK student-athletes.
  • Ron and Carol Cope Professorship in the UNK College of Business and Technology – a $500,000 endowed fund to provide annual stipends to outstanding faculty.
  • Ron and Carol Cope UNK Professorship – a $500,000 endowed fund to provide annual stipends to outstanding faculty members in any UNK college.
  • Ron and Carol Cope UNL College of Business Administration Professorship – a $500,000 endowed fund to provide annual stipends to outstanding UNL business faculty members.
  • Ron and Carol Cope UNL School of Music Professorship – a $500,000 endowed fund to provide annual stipends to outstanding UNL music faculty members.
  • Ron and Carol Cope Fund for the Frank House – a $262,000 endowed fund to provide annual program and maintenance support for the Frank House museum at UNK.

Hastings said the Cope gift helps meet goals of the Campaign for Nebraska, a comprehensive fundraising initiative with priorities that include increasing permanent support for students and faculty.

When asked in 2006 to share her thoughts on giving, Cope told the University of Nebraska Foundation she enjoyed giving to projects that are “going to do the most good.”

“Projects that will help the most people and that have the support of other people,” she said. “Philanthropy should be good and vibrant. It should be a social responsibility for those people who can afford to help others. And, if it is done in the right spirit, it should satisfy the giver as much as it does the recipient.”

Ron and Carol Cope provided support to the University of Nebraska for more than 50 years. Their many contributions include support for construction of the Ron and Carol Cope Nebraska Safety Center at UNK and an endowment to provide it annual support. They also established an endowment for the UNK Alumni Association for support of alumni programs and established student scholarship funds, including ones that annually benefit music students at UNK and UNL. They were longtime supporters of UNK’s athletics programs and provided major support for renovation and expansion of Cope Stadium in 2005.

Carol Cope earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska. She taught music in North Platte and Lincoln before moving to California, where she was a professional accompanist while completing a master’s degree from UCLA.

The Copes operated Claussens Shoes and Famous Shoe Stores for 30 years. They made most of their fortune by investing in farmland and early Berkshire-Hathaway stock. Ron Cope was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 1974. He died Jan. 12, 1992.

The Kearney community will also celebrate the Copes’ legacy Sept. 13-14. The “Walk in the Copes’ Shoes” event coincides with Carol Cope’s birthday and offers and opportunity for community-wide giving and service in celebration and memory of the Copes’ generosity.

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