The Sum of Our Parts

Warren Luckner, UNL Emeritus Professor of Practice, and his wife, Mary

Giving back is just part of the equation for former UNL professor

Story by Robyn Murray | Video by Lance Schwartz

Charity is embedded in Warren Luckner’s DNA.

“I grew up with the idea of sharing, mentored by my parents,” said Warren, who is a Burnett Society member. “It started with Sunday school offerings, and then I kept doing it.”

Warren grew up in Chicago. An avid Cubs fan, he was also a faithful churchgoer. After graduating from high school, he went to Decorah, Iowa, to study at Luther College, thinking about a possible career in the ministry. Instead, he followed his passion for mathematics. He studied abstract algebra, analysis and topology — otherwise known as theoretical or pure math. But he wasn’t quite sure how to use it to directly help people.

“At that time in my life, the late 1960s, pure math just seemed like mental gymnastics that wasn’t doing anything particularly helpful for society,” he said. “So I went to the dark side of what some would refer to as impure math, and actually tried to apply math as an actuary.”

After receiving his master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Maryland, Warren joined the National Teacher Corps program to teach elementary school in Louisville, Kentucky, and earn a master’s degree in education. That experience inspired him to begin giving back. He and his wife, Mary, decided to give 10% of their modest income to fund school supplies at the school at which Warren taught.

After completing the Teacher Corps, Warren began his actuarial career at Aid Association for Lutherans in Appleton, Wisconsin. As an actuary, Warren could directly help people achieve financial security.

After working for five years as a practicing actuary and achieving fellowship in the Society of Actuaries, Warren applied for a position in the Actuarial Science Program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He got the job and later became the program director in 1979. Warren left in 1986 to serve in the Chicago headquarters of the Society of Actuaries but returned to Nebraska to serve as director again in 2003. He stayed until his retirement in 2014.

Shortly thereafter, Warren began thinking again about what he could do to give back. He thought about the three places that had most impacted his life — Luther College; UNL’s Actuarial Science Program; and the foundation of the church he belongs to — and established planned gifts to support all three.

With the help of the planned giving department at the University of Nebraska Foundation, Warren directed his legacy gifts to two endowed funds supporting UNL’s Actuarial Science Program. One is a scholarship named for Bob Larson, the first director of the program and a mentor to Warren. The other supports the program chair, a position Warren formerly held, in memory of David Hayes. David was a student whom Warren describes as one of his best and who died shortly before his 40th birthday. David’s parents established the endowed fund in his honor.

“I enjoyed and really appreciated my time at Nebraska,” Warren said. “I especially cherish that part of my actuarial career.”

Warren made the gift from a life insurance policy that his mother purchased for him when he was 17 years old as well as from an IRA account. He said he believes it’s important to share, no matter how much we are able to give.

“These [gifts] are substantive, but not really millions of dollars,” he said. “However much you can give matters. Life is a series of relationships, family, friends, people you work with and experiences that touch you and the connections you make. I think most people can identify relationships and experiences that importantly impacted their lives, and for which they have much gratitude. That gratitude can lead to their good causes to support with a legacy gift.”

Warren sums up the philosophy simply: “Pay it forward. Our lives have been enriched. We can help enrich the lives of others, now and after we are gone.”