“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.”

The Nebraska ties that bind

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Now that Greg Snyder is retired, he spends a lot of time at airports. As a volunteer with Travelers Aid, Greg, who is a Burnett Society member, staffs the information desk at Reagan Washington National to help people find their gates, hail a cab or even get patched up like one unlucky man who fell down an escalator.

“I can do something to help,” Greg said in a recent interview from his D.C. home. “And I meet all kinds of interesting people.”

If Greg is not at the airport, you might find him volunteering at a neighborhood library group or a COVID-19 testing site. He’s a person who likes to keep busy and likes to give back.

“I can always try to have an impact,” he said. “Volunteering at the COVID site, it’s like, I can’t fi x this, but I can do something.”

In fact, Greg considers giving back — especially when it comes to Nebraska, his home state, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, his alma mater — sort of a duty.

“I got a good-quality public school education in Nebraska, and taxpayers helped make that happen,” he said. “I haven’t been a taxpayer in Nebraska for a long time, so I need to start paying that back.”

Raised in Omaha, an alumnus of Benson High School, Greg studied urban studies at UNO. It was an unusual major, which allowed him to plan his schedule and take some off – menu subjects.

“It was fascinating,” he said. “­Those classes expanded my horizons.”

Greg loved his time at UNO. He loved to learn and felt inspired by many of his professors.

“College was the best time in my life,” he said. “You have all the advantages of being an adult but hardly any of the responsibilities. I really loved it.”

Greg received a small scholarship to attend UNO that he has never forgotten. It was about $250 for the year, as he recalls, not enough to make a dent in tuition, but enough to cover his books. However, it wasn’t the amount that was most meaningful.

“It was more like UNO wanted me and thought I could succeed,” he said. “­They noticed me as an individual. It was a loving kind of gesture.”

Greg went on to study law at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and receive his juris doctor degree. From there, he practiced environmental law in Denver. Later, he began a career with the Environmental Protection Agency where he helped clean up toxic waste sites.

Greg feels UNO nurtured his love of learning and set him up for a successful career. In return, Greg made a bequest to support scholarships at the College of Public Affairs and Community Service, where he received his degree.

“I just like to have a tie to UNO,” he said. “It was a very good time in my life. I wouldn’t be where I am without that education.”

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The Nebraska ties that bind

Now that Greg Snyder is retired, he spends a lot of time at airports. As a volunteer with Travelers Aid, Greg, who is a Burnett Society member, staffs the information desk at Reagan Washington National to help people find their gates, hail a cab or even get patched up like one unlucky man who fell down an escalator.

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From the farm to the world: A scholarship opened a world of possibilities; now she plans to give back

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Burnett Society member Susanna Von Essen grew up a farm girl. She was raised just outside Pender, Nebraska, a town of about 1,100 people that sits along the Logan Creek.

Susanna’s parents had a farm where they grew corn, soybeans and alfalfa hay and raised cattle, pigs, chickens and geese. Susanna loved helping on the farm. She hoed cockleburs in the cornfields, stacked alfalfa hay and fed the calves. She harvested fruit and vegetables from the garden and gathered eggs from the henhouse. She was fascinated by nature and spent time discovering new types of plants and learning about animals.

As a young girl, Susanna had everything she needed. She attended a two-room country schoolhouse, which she adored. She had room to play and an environment that sparked a natural curiosity, which stayed with her for life. But it was her father’s struggles on the farm that led Susanna to her life’s calling and, ultimately, her plans to give back to the next generation. When he began raising hogs, Herman Von Essen developed severe respiratory problems. A German immigrant, he was strong and stoic, and it was unnerving to see him struggling to breathe.

“­That left a deep impression on me,” she said.

The experience of watching her father prompted Susanna to spend years helping farmers breathe easier as a highly respected and accomplished pulmonologist. But she couldn’t have done it without a life-changing scholarship.

Having always been a good student, Susanna knew she could get into medical school if she applied. But she wasn’t sure how to make it happen. Her father’s pulmonary illness was progressing, and the medical bills were piling up. So she applied for every scholarship she could find. Finally, she received a letter informing her she had been awarded a four-year Regents Scholarship to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

“I can still remember the moment I got that letter,” she said.

Susanna majored in zoology and German at UNL. She loved Lincoln and city life and was happy to spread her wings without being too far from home, where she was still needed.

It was halfway through her junior year that Susanna’s father passed. She knew it was coming and had worked ahead in all her classes to be ready.

“I had to be strong for my mother,” she said, “and not add to her worries by letting my grades slip.”

Susanna knew she likely would not have attended the university if not for her scholarship. But after her dad passed, she was certain she would not have graduated without it.

As a senior at UNL, Susanna applied for a Fulbright scholarship to study parasitology in Germany and also applied to medical school in the U.S. She received good news on both. After completing her Fulbright year, she enrolled in medical school at Washington University in St. Louis. She came back to Nebraska to complete her residency and became the University of Nebraska Medical

Center’s first pulmonology fellow. Later, she joined the UNMC faculty and began researching agricultural health.

“I collected grain dust from our hometown grain elevator,” she said, “and did a variety of research.”

Susanna led UNMC’s Rural Research Initiative, in which she worked to strengthen UNMC’s rural outreach. She conducted free lung screenings for farmers during Husker Harvest Days and treated countless men and women suffering from pulmonary diseases.

As a researcher, physician and academic, Susanna has directly impacted thousands of lives. But she knew what a difference it made for her to receive the Regents Scholarship and decided to give back even more.

“In reflecting on my work life and the money I’ve saved, I really wanted to give a chance to other rural students,” she said. “­There are students in need in every community, but I wanted to give a leg up to somebody who maybe faced some of the same struggles that I did.”

Susanna has established bequests for both UNL and UNMC to support student scholarships. She hopes her gifts can enable students to not only attend the university but also free them up for research projects.

“Whether you go on to graduate studies or medical school, those projects are so important for the next step,” she said. “Research takes time, so the scholarship can be very freeing.”

Susanna knows how much she owes to her education. It brought her to a new world of possibilities outside the farm while allowing her to stay rooted in the life she loved there.

It was an experience the impact of which can still be felt in Susanna’s work and contributions to the field of agricultural health. And now, it’s an experience she hopes to pass on.            

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The Front Lines

How UNMC and Nebraska Medicine became the nation’s first responders in the fight against COVID-19.

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Impact of CARES Act on Charitable Giving

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act was signed into law by President Trump on March 27.

It’s important to speak with a trusted adviser to consider how the CARES Act affects your individual situation. At least four provisions of the Act might be relevant to Burnett Society members and others who provide charitable support to nonprofit organizations.

  • The CARES Act eliminates required minimum distributions from traditional IRAs, 403(b) and 401(k) plans for 2020. Individuals age 70½ and older can still make a tax-advantaged qualified charitable distribution of up to $100,000 from their traditional IRA to benefit their favorite charities. Contact us if you’d like to make a qualified charitable distribution to the University of Nebraska Foundation. We will work with you and your advisers to ensure the gift is administered properly.
  • Those who do not itemize deductions on their federal tax return will be entitled to deduct up to $300 in cash donations to charities during the 2020 calendar year.
  • Itemizers will be allowed to deduct cash charitable contributions up to 100% of adjusted gross income in 2020. Cash contributions were previously limited to 60% of AGI with a five-year carry forward period for deductions above the limit. In 2020, a donor with an AGI of $100,000 could make a $100,000 charitable gift and deduct the full amount from their taxable income. In prior years, that same donor would have been able to deduct only $60,000 while carrying the other $40,000 forward to be used as a charitable deduction in a subsequent year.
  • The deduction limitation for cash contributions by corporations has increased from 10% to 25% of taxable income for 2020.

For more information about the CARES Act, contact the foundation’s gift planning department at gift.planning@nufoundation.org or 800-432-3216.

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Donor Impact Spotlight: Steve and Lisa Todd

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Josh Planos

Assistant Director of Communications
Contact: josh.planos@nufoundation.org

There’s a treasured folder in Steve and Lisa Todd’s Portland home.

It contains letters written by sons and daughters, telling of ambitions sparked and dreams fulfilled, of passion and gratitude.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go to school without you,” some say.

They are the stories of the numerous lives changed, due in large part to the couple’s philanthropy.

The Todds fund two scholarships. One is for members of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln gymnastics team, of which Steve was a member. The other is for Huskers pursuing a career in special education.

The Todds had discussed giving back to UNL, where they both attended and where Steve received a diploma. But the prospect of becoming benefactors felt daunting, like an opportunity one needed to qualify for.

“We really didn’t know how to go about things,” Steve said. “And then Bill (Reece, Senior Director of Gift Planning at the University of Nebraska Foundation) came to us.”

The ease and accessibility of the process took them aback.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got,” Steve said. “Depending on what resources you’ve got available, you can do things on a very small scale or a large scale.”

The Todds opted to do both. They have involved the University of Nebraska Foundation in their estate plan. “We can actually see our scholarships being put to use, and then the rest will be going into our estate. We wanted both of those concepts in our scholarships,” Lisa said. “Impacting someone’s life is an incredible feeling.”


When it came time for college, Steve and Lisa weren’t interested in leaving Lincoln.

The city had raised them and, as sophomores at Lincoln High School, had brought them together.

Going to UNL “was a natural thing,” they agreed.

Steve tried out for the gymnastics team and made the roster. Following their sophomore year, they got married, and Lisa entered the professional world, and Steve continued his coursework.

After graduation, they moved around — from Nebraska to Utah to California to Washington to Oregon — and settled in the Pacific Northwest. They’ve lived in Portland for nearly three decades, longer than anywhere else.

“But this is home too,” Lisa said of Lincoln.

When the Todds lived near Seattle, Lisa was running a recreation program for handicapped students. One day, a boy with Down syndrome walked in, interested in getting involved with the Special Olympics. Eight years later, the Todds became backup guardians for the boy. Decades later, he’s an integral part of their family and played a major role in the Todds’ decision to fund their first scholarship.

“To see that that’s where this whole thing transpired from is probably what touches our heart the most,” Lisa said. “We weren’t aware that the university had a program in special education, so when we checked into it, we were pretty ecstatic. We are helping students that will eventually help that population that we love so much.”

Speaking of private funding, Steve said, “When you’re a student, you don’t think about that. You’re thinking about how you’re going to pay for groceries. But it was just so simple. It took us a very short amount of time, and the first check we wrote, it just made us feel so good. It really did. The process was so smooth and easy. And again, it didn’t matter what funding you had available. Every little bit helps.”

They’re also active members of their alumni chapter in Oregon.

“That’s kind of like our family and our connection to home,” Lisa said. “We feel closer to Nebraska by doing that, so we feel like we need to be involved and take part in community service projects. So it’s not just Nebraska football, volleyball and basketball.”

New members of the Burnett Society, the couple say they enjoy reading stories about their peers.

Steve said, “Just seeing where people have come from and why they’ve donated and where their passions are, it’s quite interesting.”

“It’s a certain pride, having gone to the university and to be affiliated with it. We talk proudly about how great of an experience it was and what a great school it is.”

And now, Lisa said, “we are actually a part of Nebraska. We have given back, and we’ve done what we could do. And even though we live in Oregon and we’re separated by thousands of miles, we have this true connection with the university.”

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Two Weeks and Five Days

In less than three weeks, three University of Nebraska at Omaha students teamed up with the University of Nebraska Medical Center to deliver a potentially life-saving mobile app.

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Burnett Member Spotlight: Floyd Hillman

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Burnett Society member Floyd Hillman earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1959, just before joining the Boeing Company in Wichita, Kansas. He had additional postings in Huntsville, Alabama, working on the Apollo moon mission, and in Seattle, Washington, where he retired after 36 years. Floyd’s early years were spent in Wichita and Hutchinson, Kansas, before his family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, when he was starting seventh grade. Floyd played in dance bands and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve Security Group to help pay the costs of attending UNL.

What was the first job you ever had?

I was a paper carrier for the Lincoln Journal for about three years, starting in the ninth grade.

Best advice anyone ever gave you?

I don’t recall any “That’s It!” moment. However, the contributions of three folks to my experiencing a successful career and life do stand out: Professor Harper for impressing the need for situational awareness and thinking on your feet when in the laboratory or other transitional situations; Dean Green for emphasizing the need for continuing education, engineering ethics and professionalism, including obtaining the Professional Engineer certification ( I did); and Professor “Doc” Elliot, who demonstrated that humor is possible while learning about all sorts of life and casualty insurance contracts, knowledge that was very helpful after graduation as I transitioned to an independent adult making prudent decisions, regardless of sometimes overzealous agents!

Who is someone from history you’d want to invite to a dinner party if you could, and why?

I’ve recently become interested in the ancient civilizations, especially those along the Nile River. And, as an engineer at heart, I’d like to invite a chief engineer from the Pyramid & Temple Design & Construction organization from about 2600 B.C.

What is the first question you’d ask that guest from history?

Describe the material handling techniques for getting the 1- and 2-ton limestone and granite blocks from quarry to installation in a pyramid or temple. Then there would be a hundred more questions — no time to eat!

What is the one song you would be sure to play to set the mood at the dinner party?

Music to set a mood uses timbre, harmonies and tempo, rather than words. So, I’d probably use my big-band arrangements of “Sentimental Journey” and “Slow Boat to China” along with ballad selections from the Glenn Miller ballads songbook that use his clarinet lead voicing.

What is the question that you like to be asked the most?

Folks who don’t have a technical background ask why I still approach and analyze things like an engineer: “You retired from Boeing 20-some years ago.” My reply is I practiced engineering at Boeing, but I was developing as an engineer from grade-school days by reading an old edition of the “Book of Knowledge” encyclopedia during anti-polio afternoon naps and learned many technical things, like about 2- and 4-cycle engines. From grade school and on, I wanted to be an automobile designer, which led to designing, building and submitting six cars to the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild competition. This eventually led to acquiring a 1963 Riviera — a classic car with many lines like my 1954 Fisher Body entry — my first state award, which paid freshman tuition.

Why do you plan to leave a gift to the University of Nebraska in your estate?

My parents instilled in me the practice of charitable giving, including paying or giving back to those who had enabled me. The education I received at UNL prepared me, a bottom-quartile graduate, so well that I could contribute to the certification of the B-52G my first week at Boeing! The “payback account” was already accruing payback chits. I learned many years ago, from the plaque on the Mueller Tower at UNL, that it was his payback for his free education. As my career and investments increased far beyond my early predictions, I recalled the plaque on the bell tower and decided to include the university in my estate planning to pay off all of my payback chits.

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'Important to be good, do good with money'

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Josh Planos

Assistant Director of Communications
Contact: josh.planos@nufoundation.org

UNMC alumna shares passion for nursing and giving back 

Sharon Holyoke remembers that it was December 1966.

The daughter of public school teachers, Sharon was raised in a small community in America’s heartland, taught at an early age to live below her means. The best kind of teaching, they say, is the kind that sticks. So Sharon took that lesson everywhere she went.

Sharon remembers that she had recently graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing and that her monthly paycheck was around $600.

Even though her husband, Edward Holyoke Jr. —  Ted — was in his first year of medical school at the time, Sharon remembers pulling out her checkbook and sending $100 to the University of Nebraska Foundation, to support the institution that had given her an education. It felt like an awful lot of money.

“Ted and I believed it was important to be good with money,” she said. “But it was just as important to do good with money.”

Sharon hasn’t shaken the feeling more than a half-century later.

“The more we gave,” she recalled, “the more satisfaction we received.”

The more we gave, the more satisfaction we received.

- Sharon Holyoke

The Holyoke legacy is a long one that can be traced back to before the Revolutionary War.

In the 18th century, Edward Holyoke served as president for more than three decades of what was then Harvard College, teaching the likes of Samuel Adams, John Hancock and John Adams.

Today, the surname travels far — especially in Nebraska medical circles. Edward Holyoke, M.D., Sharon’s father-in-law, was an instructor at UNMC for more than 50 years. There’s a giving society that carries his name in the College of Medicine. Ted also graduated from the UNMC college.

In terms of potential career paths, Sharon’s opportunities were slim.

“Growing up, there weren’t a lot of options for women,” Sharon said.

But Sharon knew that she wanted to combine nursing and teaching, and with her father’s encouragement, she was steadfast as she pursued both.

Later, Sharon attended graduate school at the University of Colorado, where she earned her master’s degree while her husband was in his residency. The two returned to Nebraska, put down roots in Ogallala and raised two daughters, Mary Virginia and Ann Christin; a third daughter, Megan Lee, died in infancy. They later returned to Omaha, and Sharon taught at UNMC for more than 30 years, guiding more than 2,000 students through the College of Nursing. Ted mentored young physicians in the UNMC rural residency program.

But in August 1993, the Holyoke family was dealt a painful, incalculable blow when Mary Virginia, the Holyokes’ oldest daughter, died due to a heart condition. Ginny was 23 years old and pursuing a law degree. She had recently gotten married and moved to Omaha.

“It hurt. And it made us realize that we aren’t going to live forever,” Sharon said. “But it caused us to take a new look at giving. Ted liked to say that, ‘You don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse.’”

A scholarship was created in Ginny’s honor at Hastings College, where she had been valedictorian and homecoming queen.

There are multiple scholarships carrying the Holyoke name at UNMC, including two with Sharon’s name: one for nursing students and the other for general scholarships.

“Our education gave us the tools to earn a living,” Sharon said. “We always wanted to give back to the foundation to thank them.”

Ted died in 2015 after a nearly decadelong battle with gastrointestinal cancer.

Sharon meets with the recipients of her scholarships and is quick to encourage them to give back.  She’s not shy to inquire if some are dating. One told her that she didn’t have time for dating, which sent Sharon into laughter.

“I love to connect with students — they’re just delightful,” she said. “They’re just so refreshing and so impressive.”

Caitlin Jordan, a recipient of the Sharon Bonham Holyoke Nursing Scholarship, had the opportunity to meet Sharon last year.

“She gave us great words of wisdom regarding life and nursing,” said Caitlin. “She’s a wonderful lady and is extremely passionate about nursing as a profession.”

In her will, Sharon has committed to funding two scholarships — one in her name and one in Ted’s.

When asked what her ultimate philanthropic hope is, Sharon finds the words with ease.

“We love what we did,” she said. “And we just hope we leave the world a better place than we started.”

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University of Nebraska is always in her heart

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Jessica Moore

Former Public Relations Intern

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Charlotte Perry immediately volunteered to deliver meals to older people in California, where she has resided for much of her adult life. Soon after signing up, the North Platte, Nebraska, native got a notice asking if she would like to have meals delivered to her instead.

“I got to thinking, well, maybe I’m the one that’s supposed to be getting the meals, and I shouldn’t be carrying these trays up to all these old people, since I’m one of them,” Charlotte said, as her laughter echoed through the video call.

Despite opting out of delivering meals, Charlotte still found herself helping in her own way — writing uplifting notes to low-income older adults through the Salvation Army’s meal delivery program.

“I think it’s important to give back no matter what the situation is. It makes you feel good, too,” she said.

Charlotte has found great joy in helping others. She has volunteered with more than 20 organizations since she retired in 2003 as a children’s librarian in Chula Vista, California. She also began supporting the University of Nebraska, which, she said, will always be in her heart.

Charlotte established the Charlotte Walter Perry Excellence in Education Fund in 2007. She spent two of her undergraduate years at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, then called Kearney State College, and completed her degree in elementary education at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1964. Because of her fruitful experiences at both universities, her gift benefits the College of Education and Human Sciences at UNL and the College of Education at UNK.

“I think education is very important, and all of these young people need to have a career,” Charlotte said. “That’s our future. The young people become educated and good citizens.”

After graduating from UNL, Charlotte received a master’s degree in library science from the University of Denver and worked as a junior high librarian for two years. She then packed her suitcase and headed to Germany, where she worked as a librarian on a military base for the Army Special Services. After a couple years of traveling, she settled down in San Diego, California, became a librarian at a public library and then landed a job as a children’s librarian for the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

Charlotte credits her Midwestern upbringing for her great work ethic, stating that, in the 1950s, one had to be hardworking to succeed. She said she wants to be known as someone who was patriotic, was a good American and someone who did her part in the community.

“People sometimes talk about what is between the dashes in your obituary,” Charlotte said. “I would say that I’ve lived well. I’ve had fun. I’ve helped others and have been a good friend to a lot of people. So I guess that would be my legacy — that I have been a good person.”

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