Involved student becomes involved donor

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Kearney graduate gave a large sum to UNK

Judith Henggeler Spohr, a 1963 Kearney State College graduate, was very involved in college.

She belonged to Delta Pi Beta/Chi Omega sorority, the Student Senate and the Inter-Sorority Council. She also twirled the baton at halftime shows of football games as the college’s very first “Golden Girl.”

She studied hard, too, graduating with a double major in education and art and a double minor in English and speech.

Forty-eight years later Spohr continues to stay involved at UNK, most recently with a gift that funded the construction of the Academy for Teacher Education Excellence Recognition Wall.

Spohr says it was with the help of her dear friend Sam Fehrenz that she has such a history of philanthropy at UNK. Fehrenz and Spohr formed a 15-year friendship. When he died, he left her money to donate to charities of her choice.

“He knew that I was a giving person, especially to the university because it was important to me, and he left me a quarter of a million dollars to give to charity,” Spohr said. “He didn’t give it to me. But he said I could give it to any charities I wanted.”

UNK received most of that money.

Spohr’s donations to UNK include Foster Field improvements and money toward the Phyllis Roberts Endowed Scholarship, the Jim Rundstrom Journalism Scholarship, the Judith Spohr and Sam Fehrenz College of Education Scholarship, the Alumni House Fund, the Art Department, the Chi Omega Excellence Fund, the Music Department and the Southern California Alumni Association Scholarship.

“Education is the answer to 90 percent of the problems in the world,” Spohr says. “Kearney does such a good job of teaching and education. It’s a very unique and special place. I really can’t think of a better place than Kearney. I just had an outstanding experience there.”

After teaching for 37 years in the East Los Angeles Public School District, Spohr now is retired and living in Burbank, Calif. She travels and owns commercial and rental properties she maintains and manages with her son, Ryan. Another son, Jason, lives in Minden, Nev., with Spohr’s four granddaughters, Makena, Morgan, Payton and Piper.

Spohr stays involved with the UNK Southern California Alumni Association.

“One thing I am most proud of is the keyboard lab that we contributed to the Music Department,” she says. “Mostly it was our love of Gary Thomas and Bill Lynn that inspired us to do that. We also have a scholarship that now totals over $130,000 endowed, and we give five or six scholarships to students at UNK and we are very proud of that.”

College of Education Dean Ed Scantling says Spohr’s donation to the Academy for Teacher Education Excellence Recognition Wall will recognize outstanding educators.

“As a result of Judith Spohr’s generous donation we were finally able to build a beautiful recognition wall in the College of Education building,” Scantling said. “The recognition wall provides us with a wonderful place to memorialize and celebrate the selection of each of our Academy inductees.”

Spohr is excited about the wall.

“It was done so beautifully,” Spohr said. “What made it even more special is that this particular year the daughter of one of my very best friends and sorority sisters, Betty Beavers (who has passed away), had been presented with one of those four awards.”

Watching her friend’s daughter, Robin Bennett, receive the award was one of those moments in her life where Spohr felt proud.

“I’m the most proud of three things in my life,” Spohr says. “I’m a good mother, a good teacher and a Kearney graduate.”

And a good friend.

To learn more about the Academy for Teacher Education Excellence Recognition Wall, contact the foundation’s Tracy Lungrin at 308-698-5278. If you would like to donate to the University of Nebraska at Kearney in any other way, please give online or contact Lucas Dart at 308-698-5270.

Jessica Sorensen, a public relations intern at the University of Nebraska Foundation, wrote this story. Sorensen is a senior in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. She has studied four years of Spanish and volunteers at the Animal Humane Society.

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