Donor generosity that touches every corner of Colorado and extends across the globe – from behavioral health services to new education programs in the South Denver area, from assistance to persons with disabilities to accelerated research on women’s health – took center stage at the Donor Recognition Dinner.
A crowd of 400 attended the ninth annual event, a celebration of the passionate people behind philanthropic gifts to CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, in the Seawall Ballroom in the Denver Performing Arts Complex on Feb. 11.
Students in spotlight
Taking the spotlight before dinner were examples of innovative student projects, and programmatic research and service. Physical Therapy students showed how they work with children to strengthen muscles; Bioengineering students demonstrated 3D printer technology that advances health care; Mechanical Engineering students presented their HyperLynx concept for high-speed travel; and the National Center for Media Forensics in the College of Arts & Media showcased technologies that have practical applications in everyday life.
The CU Denver Chamber Music Ensemble performed during the cocktail hour, followed by Lark, CU Denver’s all-women a cappella group. The award-winning group jazzed up the evening with rousing vocals and precision choreography.
CU President Bruce Benson and his wife, CU First Lady Marcy Benson, welcomed the huge gathering and thanked the university’s donors for their vital contributions. “Besides being our friends, all of you exemplify the powerful partnership that exists between donors and the University of Colorado,” Marcy Benson said. “Together, we make our community, state and country better places. We couldn’t do everything we do without you.”
This year’s honorees
Compelling video stories highlighted the special contributions of each donor recognized:
- Real estate revolutionaries Gail and Dave Liniger, who made the largest real estate contribution in CU’s history, the Liniger Building at CU South Denver. The building, conveniently located where one-third of metro Denver’s population lives, offers courses in engineering, public health, nursing and business, with more programs planned.
- The Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation, which in 2015 made the largest programmatic gift in CU Anschutz history, investing $10 million in the University of Colorado Depression Center (renamed the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center). The gift ensures that researchers and clinicians can provide the best patient care and conduct leading-edge mental health research in a state-of-the-art facility.
- Judi and Joe Wagner, whose philanthropic interests at CU Anschutz include the Center for Women’s Health Research, the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes and the CU Cancer Center. In 2013, the couple established the Judith and Joseph Wagner Endowed Chair in Women’s Health Research, which is helping accelerate women’s health and sex difference research, supporting mentorship of future researchers, and expanding educational programs for the public and health care providers.
- Sara and Bill Caile, who are longtime donors to the University of Colorado. Their recent focus has been with Assistive Technology Partners (ATP), which is a part of both CU Anschutz and CU Denver, within the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Bill Caile is chair of the ATP Advisory Board, while the annual party the Cailes started 10 years ago, named Déjà vu Rendezvous, provides ongoing support for ATP. The Cailes were honored individually on behalf of the Déjà vu Rendezvous Steering Committee.
‘One of Denver’s top assets’
CU Denver’s new leader, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell, PhD, said she’s been “amazed and inspired” by the tremendous outpouring of philanthropic support from the CU Denver community. Such generosity, she noted, allows the university to, among other things, spearhead important research and fund student scholarships – both essential to CU Denver’s goal of becoming a premier public urban research university.
“We want to be the university that is embraced as one of Denver’s top assets – one that both defines and is defined by the city we call home,” Horrell said. “The resources CU Denver has to offer – talent, research capability, advanced technologies, and understanding of local issues – all position us to do just that. … I look forward to getting to know other dedicated partners and benefactors like you who are absolutely essential to our ability to achieve ambitious goals.”
CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman spoke of ambitious goals as well. “Simply put, the CU Anschutz Medical Campus seeks to provide world-class leadership in health and health care in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain region and across the globe,” he said. “The new discoveries and developments that your support makes possible accelerate the incredible progress and innovation that we see on our campus every day.”
Elliman listed a few of the medical breakthroughs that occurred at CU Anschutz over just the past year, including a bionic eye transplant (UCHealth Eye Center) as well as a double-lung and liver transplant (University of Colorado Hospital Transplant Center).
“Our faculty are truly at the leading edge. Last year alone, we were issued a campus-record 27 U.S. patents and spun off 10 startup companies,” Elliman said. “Each of you makes that work possible, and I can’t thank you enough.”
The thankfulness was mutual, as the honored donors praised the work and service of CU Denver and CU Anschutz. Judi and Joe Wagners’ investment ensures the continued growth of the Center for Women’s Health Research, which was founded in 2004 to increase knowledge about the impacts of cardiovascular disease and diabetes on women. The Wagner Chair is the first chair in women’s health research at CU, and is one of only a handful in the world.
“We are so happy and grateful for the recognition, but we want to push it back to all of you, because you are the ones who are making this university work so well,” Judi Wagner said. “We are just so grateful to play a small part of that incredible work.”
Joe Wagner got choked up as he said, “What you do is very important. It affects the lives of a lot of people.”
Dave Liniger recounted how he and his wife, Gail, battled health issues that put both of them in the hospital for significant periods. “No matter how rich or powerful you are, if you end up in those circumstances you are weak … and you depend on the professionals that are trained by CU and other organizations to keep you alive and to give you hope for the future,” he said. “For me, it’s personally gratifying to see the CU College of Nursing training happening at (the Liniger Building at CU South Denver). I think that’s cool.”
Gail Liniger said she and Dave strongly support education and are gratified to see the Liniger Building now serve CU students in the fast-growing South Denver area. “What could be better than our affiliation now with CU?” she said.
‘Means so much’
The transformational commitment from the Johnson Foundation strengthens the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center, and will help remove the stigma around mental health.
Lynn Campion, chairman of the foundation’s Board of Trustees, walked to the stage to accept the recognition along with her daughter, Berit Campion. “It means so much to us to be able to help with mental health and furthering research in this area,” Lynn Campion said. “It’s such a big issue in our country.”
Bill Caile explained that he and his wife, Sara, have long enjoyed supporting the University of Colorado, noting that Sara’s parents were “great supporters of the School of Medicine.” Bill talked about how he was personally touched by the incredible work of Assistive Technology Partners in helping persons with disabilities. The Cailes, along with colleagues in the construction industry, a decade ago launched the Déjà vu Rendezvous.
“To this day,” Bill Caile said, “we’ve raised over $1 million for Assistive Technology Partners just from Déjà vu Rendezvous, and we now have over 100 sponsors every year that provide money for the event.”
Also receiving recognition were members of the CU Heritage Society. In addition to the standing ovations that greeted each of the featured honorees, a lengthy round of applause was given to the many Heritage Society members who support the university in their estate plans.