Joel and Patti Meier inspire an appreciation for outdoor activities and art with a $2 million planned gift

Patti and Joel Meier
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“We decided at a young age in our marriage that we wanted to give back. That was going to be very important to us.”

Joel and Patti Meier have let their passions and interests guide them in much of their 55 years together. This approach is also helping the Nebraska natives and University of Nebraska–Lincoln alumni determine the legacies they wish to leave through their giving.

Encouraging others — especially young people — to relish a lifelong interest in outdoor activities and the arts is the focus of a more than $2 million planned gift the Colorado couple has made to the university.

Through planned gifts outlined in their will to the University of Nebraska Foundation, they established two permanently endowed funds of $1 million each. One fund will provide annual support for UNL’s Campus Recreation Outdoor Adventures Program, and another fund will provide annual support for a curator of academic engagement at the Sheldon Museum of Art.

 A visit back to Nebraska

On a return visit to Nebraska, the Meiers took the opportunity to tour the UNL Campus Recreation facilities and learn more about its various programs.

“The new outdoor recreational facility on campus really blew us away,” Joel Meier said. “You can understand a facility such as that at the University of Colorado or the University of Montana, but there it was at the University of Nebraska: this beautiful building housing the Outdoor Adventures Program.

“We learned more about the programs there which are really dear to my heart because those are the types of things I was teaching as a professor. And so that really lit our fire, and we decided to set up an endowment.”

The Meiers also committed an outright gift of $50,000 to provide permanent support for an outdoor adventures speakers series that will benefit students and the university community.

About this gift, Joel Meier said, “We knew that having visiting lecturers invited to campus to talk on a range of topics related to the fields of outdoor recreation could be so beneficial. We really liked the idea of the university being able to bring in some outstanding speakers and experts.”

Stan Campbell, director of Campus Recreation, said the timing of the Meiers’ gifts couldn’t be better, as Campus Recreation celebrates its 100th year as a university department.

“We are extremely grateful for the generosity, trust and commitment to the UNL Division of Campus Recreation shown by Joel and Patti Meier,” Campbell said. “Their generosity will allow us to further enrich the lives of our students by enhancing their experiential learning opportunities through the engagement of individuals and groups in outdoor adventure experiences. We are truly honored to receive their generous gifts.”

Campbell said what makes the gifts especially gratifying is that Joel Meier is a former director of Campus Recreation when it was known as Intramural Sports and served as a graduate assistant there.

The Campus Recreation fund will be named the Joel Meier Assistant Director for Outdoor Adventures. It will provide annual support for the position of assistant director of outdoor adventures, who will oversee program coordination and administration of the Outdoor Adventures Center and work to further experiential education and outdoor engagement of students and the university community.

Connecting the Sheldon Museum of Art to the entire university

The Meiers’ gift to the Sheldon Museum of Art will establish the Patricia Meier Curator of Academic Programs Fund and provide annual support for a curator of academic programs.

This position will oversee the museum’s education and engagement efforts and serve as a liaison between the museum and the university community to develop and implement academic initiatives that connect faculty and students to the museum and its resources.

“Our thinking for the endowed position at the Sheldon Museum of Art was about the importance of docents and others working in certain parts of the museum who can go out to the community and throughout the state to provide art education to young children, parents and teachers,” said Patti Meier.

Patti Meier also sees the endowed fund as being a resource to the museum in helping various units on campus send classes of students to the museum, where trained docents can provide tours related to almost any topic and relate it to art.

“Hopefully, it helps inspire people on campus to go to the art museum and expand their view and knowledge of the world and art, so when they graduate they do not just have a view of their own field but they also have more of a worldview about many other things. To us, this is what a real university education is all about.”

Wally Mason, director and chief curator of the Sheldon Museum of Art certainly agrees.

“Patti and Joel Meier’s gift establishing the Patricia Meier Curator of Academic Programs Fund is central to the success of our mission to provide object-based teaching methodologies and engagement to faculty, staff and students,” Mason said. “Patti Meier’s knowledge of and contributions to art education make their support particularly meaningful.”

“These are things that are dear to our hearts”

The Meiers began thinking about the legacy they wanted to leave behind at UNL after years of making smaller annual gifts to help their alma mater.

“These are things that are dear to our hearts and is how our relationship with the University of Nebraska came to fruition,” said Patti Meier about supporting outdoor recreation and art education.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to us,” said Joel Meier. “We’re in a position to give back to entities that have meant a lot to us. When we think back about all the different ways our instructors, mentors and others helped us and had faith in us, giving back becomes a very rewarding experience.”

The early years, meeting in Lincoln

Joel Meier, who grew up in Minden, Nebraska, followed in his parents’ footsteps in attending the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

His father, William Meier, studied political science and graduated from UNL in 1926 and then received a law degree there in 1930. His mother, Amelia Utter Meier, studied English and graduated in 1928 and later earned a master’s degree in English at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, then known as the Nebraska State Teachers College.

Joel Meier has other relatives who went to Nebraska, including uncles who played football for the Cornhuskers. Having played football in high school, Meier hoped to also make the Cornhusker cut but said he “flunked” the physical exam.

“So, that left me out in the streets at the university, and I struggled as to what the heck I wanted to do in my life,” he said. “And I decided if I couldn’t play football, I wanted to be a football coach.”

He studied health and physical education while working as a student manager for the swimming and football teams and received an undergraduate degree in 1962.

He then began working on a master’s degree in education before pausing to go serve in the early days of the U.S. Peace Corps as an Outward Bound instructor.

“Back then, they believed that all Peace Corps volunteers ought to go through training to build up their physical stamina and be prepared for outdoor experiences,” Joel Meier said. “I was in Puerto Rico up in a tropical rain forest jungle and doing all kinds of adventures and climbing and rappelling off cliffs and teaching survival skills.”

After almost a year with the Peace Corps, he received a call from the University of Nebraska asking if he would return to Lincoln to serve as the graduate assistant for Intramural Sports under its Director Ed Higginbotham, who was also the head tennis coach and professor in the Department of Physical Education.

Joel Meier took the grad assistant position and received his master’s degree in 1965, which happens to be the same year he married Patricia “Patti” Schmadeke Meier.

Patti Meier grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and is a graduate of Southeast High. She completed several of her science college courses from UNL while in high school, something to this day she believes was progressive of the university to offer in the 1960s.

“I don’t know how they did it at that time,” Patti said about the physics and chemistry she got out of the way before college. “That was pretty amazing back then and very forward-thinking of the University of Nebraska.”

Focused on becoming a dental hygienist, she attended UNL for two years to complete prerequisite courses before transferring to the University of Missouri–Kansas City. She graduated there in 1965 and returned to Lincoln to start her health care career.

Joel and Patti Meier’s joint returns to Lincoln would rekindle their relationship.

“When she came back to Lincoln, that’s when we reacquainted ourselves,” Joel said. “I knew who she was when she was at Nebraska, but she didn’t know who I was. She was kind of the campus beauty queen and Miss Cornhusker Magazine and runner up for Miss Lincoln.

“So, anyway, everybody knew who she was. But we got to know each other when she came back and ended up getting married, and we’ve been married for 55 years.”

After their wedding and believing their education was complete, Joel served five years as director of UNL’s Intramural Sports program, and Patti Meier practiced dental hygiene.

Now well into his higher education career and starting to feel some pressure to complete a doctorate, the Meiers decided to take a temporary break from UNL so Joel could work on a doctorate at Indiana University Bloomington.

“I had every intention of coming back to Nebraska afterward and starting an outdoor recreation management major,” Joel said. “I was actually pursuing a doctorate degree with an emphasis in recreation park and tourism studies with a focus on outdoor recreation and leadership.”

To the Rocky Mountains and back to the Midwest

With a doctorate in hand, Joel heard about an opening at the University of Montana that “had my name written all over it,” he said.

The position entailed starting an outdoor recreation degree program – exactly what he wanted to do – so he applied, received the position and the Meiers headed to the mountains in 1970.

While at UM, Joel’s career blossomed, and Patti discovered what would be her passion and mission as well.

On the faculty at UM, Joel moved up to a full professor and was in the College of Forestry and Conservation before being promoted to the associate dean of the college.

After 25 years at UM, Joel was asked to return to Indiana University – the “other alma mater” he teasingly reminds you – to serve as chair of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies. He would serve in that role for six years before stepping down and serving on the faculty, completing a total of 18 years before retiring.

Joel has held the title of Professor Emeritus at IU since his retirement in 2007.

In all, Patti Meier practiced dental hygiene for 20 years. But it was during the couple’s time in Montana between 1970 and 1994 that she became especially interested in education and health care for Native Americans and other underrepresented people in need.

She worked with Indian Health Services, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services responsible for providing medical and public health services to the Native American Tribes and Alaska Native people. She served as a government consultant and helped begin Head Start programs on Native American reservations to provide early childhood education, health, nutrition and parental involvement services to low-income children and families.

“It was absolutely wonderful,” said Patti about these experiences she enjoyed for 40 years. “It is a big part of my life. I spent a lot of time on reservations and would go and stay for weeks. It was marvelous.”

It was also during this period of their lives in Montana and Indiana that Patti manifested her love and appreciation for art. This admiration led her to serve as docents at the Montana Museum of Art and Culture in Missoula and at the Eskenazi Museum of Art in Bloomington.

“I have always loved the arts,” said Patti. “I always say art is my world – that along with skiing.”

Patti is also a professional ski instructor and is now in her 49th year of teaching others the enjoyment of downhill mountain skiing, including at ski areas in Montana, Colorado and New Zealand. Since living in Colorado, she’s racked up 25 seasons of ski instruction with Vail Resorts.

“Everything we do is centered on helping children and young people”

After Joel retired from teaching at IU, the couple ended up in Colorado, which now serves as the home base for their adventures, which includes traveling to all seven continents either by foot, kayak or motorcycle.

Even in the busyness of their retirement life, Joel and Patti appreciate the legacies they created through their service, volunteerism and philanthropy at the universities that have been a major part of their lives. In addition to their generosity to the University of Nebraska, they have supported IU and UM, creating endowed funds at each that also supports their passion and interest in the arts and outdoor recreation.

Joel and Patti, who describe themselves as lifelong minimalists, say they decided early on as a couple they would help others through education and giving back what they could.

“Everything we do is centered on helping children and young people,” said Patti. “We decided at a young age in our marriage that we wanted to give back.

“That was going to be very important to us.”

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