Generous Copes helped enhance the map of Kearney

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Longtime donor felt so blessed. That’s why she gave back to her hometown.

The coach and his wife were driving through the streets of Kearney one day, taking their dear friend, Carol Cope, to dinner. This was about seven years ago when Cope was 96.

The music playing in the car was U2.

“Carol asked what band this was,” recalled Darrell Morris, football coach at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. “She and I then proceeded to discuss how the band’s lead singer, Bono, did a lot of work with debt relief of Third World countries with the G7 countries – Carol had such a strong interest in that sort of thing.

“Next time we saw her, she had purchased the CD and had become a U2 fan at the age of 96.”

Cope died a year ago at the age of 103, leaving the streets of Kearney changed for the better.

She was the matriarch of Kearney, according to Coach Morris and his wife and others who loved her. You don’t have to drive far around town to see something she and her husband helped to build.

Says Sherry Morrow, trustee of the Cope Charitable Fund who was like a daughter to Carol: “Several things at the university would not be what they are today, like Cope Stadium. We have a child development center at the Y that would not be there. Kearney Catholic High School probably would not have its activity center because she paid for that. Yanney Park would be missing an amphitheater. You can go right down the list.

“Without her, it would be like you took a map of Kearney and just started erasing things off it.”

Tomorrow, Sept. 5, Kearney will celebrate her legacy during UNK’s Carol Cope Day, the Lopers’ football season opener against Washburn University. The game starts at 6 p.m. – at Cope Stadium.

For decades, people walked the streets of Kearney in shoes from the shoe store she and her husband, Ron, owned downtown. Ron died in 1992.

Pete Kotsiopulos, a former mayor of Kearney who’s now a vice president with the University of Nebraska Foundation, remembers walking into their store as a kid and being awed by the rows and rows of shoe boxes, stacked high. He remembers Ron and Carol running around helping people.

“They were always very, very friendly,” he said. “Ron had a smile about a mile wide. It was like you were coming into their home.”

The Copes owned several shoe stores in the state. Ron served as a state senator. They made most of their fortune by investing in farmland and early Berkshire-Hathaway stock.

Said Coach Morris: “Carol always expressed how blessed she and Ron were to be able to help others. When they were in business, they always were appreciative of Kearney supporting them, and they wanted to be supportive of Kearney and the state of Nebraska.”

She believed in education. Through her estate, she continued to help the university. She endowed scholarship funds for UNK students and student-athletes. She left money to support the Frank House museum on the UNK campus. She endowed professorships at UNK as well as at UNL, her alma mater.

Said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen: “This is the largest single gift in the history of the institution, and we are truly grateful for the generosity of the Copes.

“This gift will forever change the University of Nebraska at Kearney.”

She believed in giving back, something she learned from her parents who didn’t have a lot of money. A few years ago, this is what Carol said about them:

They always felt that people owed something, whatever payment they could make, for the space they occupied on the planet. I’ve always felt that I owed something to the people who went before me…

Just a few days before she died, Carol asked her caregiver to take her for a ride around town. They drove to the Good Samaritan Hospital so she could see the new sign on the Cope Heart Center. She thought it looked good.

Then the caregiver drove her back home through the streets of Kearney.

Support for students and support for faculty are top priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you’d like to help, please consider giving online or contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.

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