Ed Hirsch, former foundation president, dies

Friends recall his tremendous loyalty

Ed Hirsch, a former longtime staff member of the University of Nebraska Foundation and its president in the mid-1980s, died Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011, in Lincoln. He was 89.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10, at St. Paul United Methodist Church, 1144 M St. in Lincoln. Visitation will be noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9, at Roper & Sons funeral home, 4300 O St. in Lincoln. Family will greet friends from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Memorials can be made in lieu of flowers to St. Paul United Methodist Church, the Girl Scouts of America (Homestead Council) or the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Hirsch joined the foundation in 1963 after working as the assistant public relations director at the university. He came on board at the foundation working in communications and annual fundraising before rising to executive vice president, a post he held for years.

Hirsch created many innovative measures to increase alumni donations. He started programs to obtain matching gift contributions from graduates’ employers. He emphasized informing students on campus about the foundation through a student service group called Nebraska Builders. He created the Class Agent Program, in which husband-and-wife combinations from each graduating class were designated as “class agents” and solicitation letters were mailed out under their names.

In a highly innovative move for the time, Hirsch inserted plastic phonograph records in the 1964 annual reports he mailed out. The records contained a message from the chancellor.

“Ed had a tremendous loyalty, commitment and passion for the University of Nebraska Foundation,” said Clarence L. Castner, the foundation’s president. “But I think Ed’s most important contribution was his integrity and his focus on donors’ interests. That is his legacy – the culture that’s been established at the foundation.”

Castner credited Hirsch with maintaining an important relationship with donor Florence Leon of Clayton, Calif., who in 1984 transferred $1,034,000 in assets to the foundation through an estate gift. Her gift provided scholarships at UNMC, UNL and UNO in memory of her husband, Dr. Tim Leon, who was educated on all three campuses, as well as money for research in heart, blood vessels and cancer at UNMC.

“It was Ed who kept Mrs. Leon up-to-date,” Castner said. “It was Ed who remembered her 100th birthday. It was Ed whom she trusted.”

In 1986, Hirsch became foundation president and held that position for a year. He retired in 1988.

“He was a great caretaker of the foundation,” said Foundation Vice Chairman Terry Fairfield, who followed Hirsch as president in 1987. “He had a good institutional memory of not only the foundation but also the university. He was a great resource – a center of knowledge about both institutions.”

He was a great wit, too.

His longtime secretary, Linda Daiker, recalled a staff meeting in former foundation president D.B. “Woody” Varner’s office. Someone looked down and noticed that Hirsch was wearing two different shoes.

“Without blinking, he goes, ‘And I have another pair just like them at home.'”

She and Fairfield both remember the time Hirsch was cutting paper and accidentally cut off his tie.

“He just had the ability to make fun of himself,” Fairfield said, “and he was just very loyal. He was loyal to all the staff at the foundation.”

Said Daiker: “He took a lot of interest in the staff. If someone needed somebody to talk to, his door was always open.”

Hirsch is survived by a son, Roger W. Hirsch, and daughter-in-law Janet L. Hirsch; a daughter, Janet Christine Hirsch; grandchildren Gretchen M. Monroe, Heather A. Blair and Nicholas E. Goins; and four great-grandchildren, all of Lincoln.

He also is survived by a close cousin, Jill (Wagner) Gealy of Kearney, brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, nieces and nephews.

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