$1 million estate gift will benefit medical students

By Robb Crouch

When C. J. LaBenz, MD, of Omaha gathered with his 1975 UNMC College of Medicine classmates at their 15th graduation reunion, he encouraged them to mark their legacy together by gifting a scholarship fund to help future medical students.

The class took the opportunity also to honor former internal medicine professor and UNMC College of Medicine alumnus Mary Jo Henn, MD. She had served as an instructor and mentor to many of them, as well as other medical student classes, during her time on the university faculty and as assistant dean of students.

With their combined gifts, they established the UNMC Class of 1975 Mary Jo Henn Memorial Scholarship Fund as a permanent endowment at the University of Nebraska Foundation to support generations of medical students. Even after its creation in 1990, many class members have continued to support the fund, sometimes on an annual basis.

Now, through a planned estate gift, Dr. LaBenz bequeathed more than $1 million to the University of Nebraska Foundation for the scholarship fund following his death last year.

“With this generous increase, the endowment will now allow the College of Medicine to distribute about $45,000 annually in scholarship aid to multiple students,” said Brian Anderson, senior director of development for the UNMC College of Medicine. “As the class of 1975 originally directed, the scholarship benefits students in the college who have significant academic accomplishments and financial need.”

Danielle Dircks of Omaha is a recent recipient of the scholarship. She was notified of the award last summer before starting medical school at a time when, like many, she was concerned about whether she’d survive the demands of medical school.

“Receiving this scholarship was an excellent reminder, not only of all the hard work that led me to where I was, but also of the extensive resources available to me throughout my journey to become a physician,” Dircks said. “At the beginning of my first year, the words ‘imposter syndrome’ were tossed around a lot, referring to the feeling that many first-year medical students experience that they are not good enough and not meant to be there. Well, one of my big reminders that I am where I am supposed to be is receiving such a generous scholarship. I am very grateful.”

George W. Orr, MD, a longtime friend to Dr. LaBenz and his medical practice partner, said Dr. LaBenz was a strong advocate of the university and that he knew Dr. Henn personally.

“He knew Mary Jo and liked her very well,” said Dr. Orr, who graduated from the UNMC College of Medicine in 1962. “He always held an interest in medical school education and encouraged his classmates to set up this scholarship fund. I think he received some support as he went through medical school, and he was always in contact with the university and always thought very highly of it. He enjoyed participating in activities at the medical center throughout his lifetime.”

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State College, Dr. LaBenz studied medicine at UNMC, graduating in 1975. Following his residency, he went into obstetrics and gynecology practice in Omaha. He died on Aug. 11, 2021, at age 73.

About Dr. Henn

Mary Jo Henn, MD, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska in 1940 and a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1944. In 1950, she graduated from the UNMC College of Medicine. She completed a residency at the Mayo Clinic and then joined the UNMC College of Medicine faculty as an instructor in the Department of Internal Medicine. In 1963, she was appointed associate professor and assistant dean of students. She was promoted to full professor in 1970 and retired in 1979 because of health problems. She died in 1981 at age 62.