Three hundred reasons for giving back

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Three hundred reasons for giving back

UNK donor says a gift from two professors “was really a miracle” to him

Three hundred dollars.

That was all he needed to stay in school. But Jerry Taylor just didn’t have it.

This was back in 1962, when he was a sophomore at Kearney State College (now UNK).

Jerry grew up in North Platte. His family wasn’t poor. They always had food on the table. But his folks just didn’t have extra money to help send him to college. So right after graduating from North Platte High in 1958, he went down to the state employment agency in town and found himself a job at an auto supply store, managing inventory and delivering parts.

He saved his money and waited a year before enrolling at Kearney.

“It was exciting,” Jerry said one recent day, in a phone conversation from his home in Ashland, Ore. “I was lucky – I started with a couple basic business classes with Ron Landstrom. And I had Dale Ingram in accounting. So I had a very good start with supportive teachers.”

Jerry wasn’t a star, but he made the honor roll. He worked hard. Maybe Professor Landstrom saw that because he asked Jerry to help grade papers for him.

The two weren’t great buddies. They didn’t hang out. But Landstrom, Jerry says, was “always very encouraging and supportive.”

During the second semester of his sophomore year, Jerry hit a wall. His savings from summer jobs and part time work was running out and he couldn’t cover the costs of his shared apartment and the other expenses that go along with being a student.

Three hundred dollars.

That was all he needed to make it to the end of the semester and a summer job that was waiting for him at the auto parts store.

He knew he’d have to drop out.

A friend at the time was in the Marine Corps reserves and traveled to Kansas once a month for training. Jerry asked if he could ride with him down there one weekend. The Marines, Jerry figured, might be a good option. He even took an eye test while in Kansas to qualify for pilot training.

He was all ready to sign up. But when he returned home from that trip, Jerry found a letter in his mailbox telling him that he had won a scholarship.

“Lo and behold,” Jerry said, “it was a scholarship from Ak-Sar-Ben – for three hundred dollars!”

He found out that his two favorite professors, Ron Landstrom and Dale Ingram, had supported his application for that scholarship.

Jerry was able to stay in school.

After his first two years in Kearney, he transferred to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and graduated in 1964 with a bachelor’s in business administration and then later earned an MBA from USC. He went on to a very successful career, retiring as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Applied Materials Inc., the world’s leading supplier of semiconductor fabrications solutions.

He and his wife, Jeanne (also a North Platte native), stay busy. Both have volunteered for several organizations in their Oregon community. They’ve given back to Southern Oregon University. They’ve been involved with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival – Jerry is past president. They travel. Their next trip, Jerry says, is to South America, where they’ll cruise around the southern tip of the continent and end up in Chile.

He owes so much to his University of Nebraska degree, he says, and to those two Kearney professors.

It was just three hundred dollars. But it made the difference.

He never forgot those professors. Over the years, whenever he’d return to North Platte for his high school reunions, he’d usually swing over to Kearney to visit them.

Then about a decade ago, someone at Kearney let Jerry know that Landstrom was seriously ill and that news, Jerry says, “prompted me to get off my duff and do something.”

He talked to someone he knew in the University of Nebraska Foundation office in Kearney and learned that Landstrom had dreamed of starting a program at UNK that’d bring back alumni who’d done well in their business careers to share their real-world experience with the students. So Jerry and Jeanne decided to create that program, and they chose to name it: The Ron Landstrom Executive in Residence Program.

They also decided to add a major gift that would provide scholarship support to students each year. And each year, Jerry and Jeanne love to find the scholarship award winners’ thank-you letters in their mailbox. They love to hear their stories. They remind him of the student he used to be.

“That money I got allowed me not to drop out,” Jerry says. “It was really a miracle to me. Now we can help others in that situation.

“To dedicate this new program, Jeanne and I came back to Kearney and I was asked to speak to the business school when that was granted to honor Ron Landstrom. By then, Ron had recovered quite well, and he came back for that dedication. Even Dale Ingram was there. So I saw my two old friends and professors.

“That was a very meaningful event to me and my wife.”

In their estate plans, Jerry and his wife also plan to leave a final gift to UNK.

“Of course, you have to take care of family and relatives first,” Jerry says. “But, we do want to be sure to provide funds and give something back to Kearney to support great students one more time.

“Making a difference by supporting other lives – that is what it’s all about.”

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