UNMC donors leave things better than they found them

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The Pearsons funded research for macular degeneration.

Mary Pearson grew up in the Great Depression.

Her father, a farmer, didn’t have money to buy her and her twin sister dresses to go to their high school graduation party. So they stayed home.

That was one of her worst days.

“I vowed that day that I would never be so poor that I didn’t have the proper clothes to wear,” the Holdrege woman says.

A day in December 1948 was one of her best days.T

That was the day she answered a “help wanted” ad in the Holdrege newspaper and went to work for Roy Pearson, the man who would become her business mentor and, years later, her husband.

Because he’d also grown up poor, she says, he had empathy for people in need.

Here’s more about Roy, from a conversation with Mary:

Roy started from nothing. He came from a broken family.

One day when Roy was 8, his dad told his mom that he was taking Roy to get a haircut. But instead, his dad brought him here on the railroad from California to live with his Grandmother Pearson in Funk, Neb., and then later with his Aunt Hilda.

Roy never saw his mother again.

At 16, he was on his own. He joined the National Guard and earned a dollar a day. He borrowed $200 from his aunt and enrolled in a business college in Missouri. He graduated, but couldn’t stay to receive his diploma due to a lack of money.

Because he grew up poor, he had much empathy for people in need. And his empathy was contagious.

His motto was, “Leave things better than you found them.”

It was my good fortune the day I answered a “help wanted” ad in the Holdrege newspaper and went to work for Roy. That was December 1948. By that time, he’d returned from the war as a lieutenant colonel.

The word “can’t” was never in Roy’s vocabulary. Roy formed K-K Appliance Co. As the business grew, so did my duties as office manager, comptroller and corporate secretary. He eventually owned seven propane plants, a truck terminal, farms in Phelps County and a cattle ranch in Cherry County.

We married in 2005, after his first wife died. I admired his business ability so much. When Roy saw a need, he gave. He encouraged me to do it, too. We began our philanthropy locally. Roy served as a director on the first board of the Phelps County Foundation, and I served the following six years as director and treasurer. I became a charter patron of the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney – I have painted with water colors for years.

My business relationship with Roy made it possible for me to begin an investing program. During those early years, my first husband died. But I was able, for two weeks every year, to travel the world.

Roy began to suffer from macular degeneration after he retired. He still could drive, but he couldn’t read what he wanted to read. I’d read from three newspapers a day to him. But his attitude stayed great.

The last 10 years of his life, Roy served on the UNMC Board of Counselors, so we spent much time at UNMC and formed many friendships during his two terms.

It was a wonderful time of our lives. UNMC was very dear to our hearts. In 2007, we funded research for macular degeneration at UNMC.

Roy died Sept. 11, 2010. His memorial service here in Holdrege was one of the most rewarding days of my life. So many friends and business associates came to pay their respects, including a UNMC macular degeneration research scientist and his wife, who came all the way from Omaha.

You know how long I was around Roy? Sixty-two years.

And it was my good fortune.

Research support is one of UNMC’s priorities in the Campaign for Nebraska. If you’d like to advance medical research, please consider giving online or contact the foundation’s Amy Volk at 800-432-3216.

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