CEDAR RAPIDS — At 90 years old, prominent philanthropist Henry B. Tippie stood before a crowd of more than 100 Thursday in the Kirkwood Community College building formerly known as Nielsen Hall and lauded work on the campus that increasingly boasts his name.
“It’s people that make things happen,” he said. “You can have all the bricks and all the mortar, but if you don’t have the right people, you’re not going anywhere.”
The self-proclaimed Iowa “farm boy” decades ago began giving to higher education institutions across Eastern Iowa — supporting, for example, the University of Iowa business college, an endowed chair at Coe College and a scholarship fund at Kirkwood.
Those beneficiaries have honored Tippie’s generosity through christenings in his honor. Consider the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business, or Coe’s Tippie professor of business and economics.
On Thursday, Kirkwood followed suit by dedicating the “Tippie Business Education Center at Nielsen Hall” in a ceremony that drew dignitaries and students.
“To properly express our gratitude, we need to go further than just saying words and thank yous,” said Lois Bartelme, chairwoman of the Kirkwood board of trustees. “We need an action to demonstrate just how thankful the Kirkwood community is for the Tippie efforts. That’s why we’re dedicating this building.”
The new name recognizes Tippie’s most recent donation to Kirkwood of $1.1 million, which will be added to the Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippie Business Scholarship Endowment, established in 2012 with a $1 million gift.
Tippie and his wife, who now live in Austin, Texas, made their first gift to Kirkwood in 1992 by helping establish the Tippie-Mansfield Center in Tippie’s hometown of Belle Plaine. His subsequent Kirkwood donations have supported the Tippie Beef Education Center, along with faculty positions and student scholarships.
Kirkwood President Mick Starcevich said at least 335 students have benefited from Kirkwood scholarships made possible by Tippie’s giving.
“Those numbers are about to change dramatically,” he said, crediting the new gift. “Because we are in the process of making another 50 awards.”
Kirkwood officials say students who receive scholarships are more than twice as likely to graduate.
Heather Stuck, a student recipient, choked up while expressing her gratitude for the doors Tippie’s generosity opened.
“It really, truly does impact people like me,” said Stuck, who is about to graduate from Kirkwood and head overseas for an academic marketing project in Vietnam.
Tippie began what would become an illustrious philanthropic career in 1953 with a $5 check to the Chester F. Phillips Scholarship Fund at the University of Iowa, where he earned a bachelor’s degree.
In the decades that followed, his giving snowballed as his resources multiplied. In 1999, Tippie made a $30 million pledge to the UI, which — at the time — marked the single largest gift from one person in the university’s history.
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