When Jim and Georgia Thompson of Minnetonka, Minnesota, learned of Dean Kathy Farrell’s vision to establish six endowed chairs at the College of Business, they decided to fund a $2.5 million matching gift. By doing so, they created meaningful partnerships and faculty support, and elevated the stature of the College of Business.
“It was clear faculty support was paramount for the college to take the next big step in the educational journey. That prompted us to be helpful and we had seen the matching element of our gift work at other places,” explained Jim.
The Nebraska Business Strategic Plan finalized last spring incorporated a mission-focused goal on research and discovery. A strategic initiative to help achieve it involved funding additional faculty support through six endowed chairs at $1 million each, which would nearly double the number of endowed chairs at the College of Business. The annual income generated through a $1 million endowed chair provides faculty funding for competitive salaries and research.
The Thompsons’ gift provided $500,000 toward each of five chairs to be paired with matching donors who would fund the other half to reach a million per chair. An added benefit, the Thompsons allowed the matching donors to name the endowed chair they helped fund. This name then becomes the title of the faculty member hired as the endowed chair.
“We knew a matching gift creates more excitement for giving as people want to meet that match and have an opportunity to give. It moves along at a much faster pace,” Georgia said.
As forecasted, finding partners for the Thompson’s gift happened quickly. Currently, four of the five matching gifts are funded and named.
They include: Alice M. Dittman Chair of Banking and Finance, Cynthia Hardin Milligan Chair of Business, Van Horne Family Endowed Chair (matching funds provided by J.E. Van Horne), and Steve and Jennifer David Family Chair in Business.
“We are grateful for the insight and generosity of Jim and Georgia Thompson. Through their thoughtful support of five endowed chairs, they’ve helped us take the next important leap in leading the future of business,” Dean Kathy Farrell said. “We need additional partners for the fifth matching gift and also for our sixth endowed chair to meet our strategic initiative for faculty support.”
In October, the Thompsons and the matching gift supporters met. Sharing stories solidified their connection.
“We knew a gift would be important from us in a direct sense, but building a school is about a community,” Jim said. “We've created a community of givers who are able to watch this school benefit from the gift and be part of it.”
Jim and Georgia, '72, Thompson
Georgia Thompson attended Nebraska because her father, a farmer until she was age 10, and her siblings paved the way. A business administration graduate, she worked in retail at Dayton Hudson Corporation and then Northwestern National Life in Houston, Texas. There she met Jim, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who also lived on a farm until age six, and the couple married in 1977.
“I love my state and my school. When Nebraska became part of the Big Ten, the connection started between Jim and the university. We attended alumni events as part of the Minnesotans for Nebraska,” said Georgia.
Intrigued by the possibilities, they supported the new building for the College of Business. Later, they provided a matching gift for endowed chairs.
“In order for institutions to succeed and move forward and grow, they need the support of people. We’ve been very fortunate in our lives by having the ability to give back. This gift will attract high-caliber professors, which is so key to running a good business school,” said Georgia.
Steve, ’70, and Jennifer, ’70, David
The Davids lived a few blocks apart in Lincoln, Nebraska, as children and went to Randolph, Lefler and Lincoln High schools together. Then one day during their sophomore year, they were partnered for a class project.
“It turned out to be real good pairing. We went to the university together and married in 1970. Eight months later, I was in the Army. I always felt like the University of Nebraska gave me the foundation to be successful,” said Steve, a distinguished military graduate from ROTC at Nebraska who later worked at Proctor and Gamble.
“We have Nebraska in our blood. In fact, my mom, dad, sister, brother, two uncles on my side and Jennifer’s side, her mother, her father and her brother all attended Nebraska. Jennifer and I give back because we have a history in Lincoln and with the university. Sometimes you need a boost and with this endowed chair, the Thompsons’ generous gift absolutely primed the pump.”
Alice Dittman, ’52 & ’55
Alice Dittman fondly recalls riding her bike through campus as a child and checking out the new additions, like Mueller Tower. When she attended Nebraska in the ’50s to learn about banking, she realized campus updates happen due to people who give back.
A pioneer in business in Nebraska, Dittman achieved many firsts including being named the first woman to become bank president in Lincoln and Omaha. When she took over as president and CEO of Cornhusker Bank in 1975, the value of the bank was $8 million and she grew it to nearly $236 million. She became the first woman to chair the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, Bryan Hospital Board of Directors, State of Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Community Bankers Association (a division of the American Bankers Association), and the first woman president of the Nebraska Bankers Association.
“If you don’t give back, you certainly aren’t showing appreciation and people helped me throughout my life. This endowed chair to me is another way of saying, ‘Thanks for the memories.’”
J.E. Van Horne, ’75
While working in the family business of banking, J.E. Van Horne received a call asking if he still had his drums. That call led him to a career as a professional musician and sound engineer with “Johnny Cash level big country and rock.”
“I am the luckiest guy on the planet and one of the things that helped me was coming to Nebraska. I tell you if a door opens, walk through it anywhere, anytime, anyplace. The Thompson’s matching gift made this endowed chair a no brainer for me. I’m lucky to be able to leave something here to honor my family,” Van Horne said.
His grandmother graduated from Nebraska in 1906 and his father in 1944, as well as uncles, aunts and cousins. One cousin played offensive tackle in the ’70s.
“I love this university and sit in the same seats my grandfather did in the ’40s, right on the 50-yard line. You can't have a bigger, more direct connection to this university than that.”
Cynthia Hardin Milligan
Cynthia Milligan first moved to Nebraska when she was eight years old as her father was appointed Chancellor of the University of Nebraska. She witnessed the positive impact of the university daily.
“I was familiar with higher education having grown up in the university community. I knew that a university experience can make an important difference in many young people’s lives and I wanted to be part of that,” Milligan said.
After graduating from George Washington University School of Law, she practiced law at a firm in Washington, D.C. and taught tax law at Georgetown Law School. She then returned to CBA to serve as dean in 1998 and retired in 2009.
“One of our biggest challenges when I was dean was the student body growing every year and not having the financial resources to hire additional faculty. I was committed to maintaining high quality teaching in the classroom and the course variety for the students,” she said.
Published: January 7, 2020