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Grateful alumnus left more than $800,000 for KU scholarships

Nelson Gipson
Nelson Gipson

When Nelson Gipson realized how close to death he was, he summoned his attorney. From his hospital bed, Gipson formalized estate plans to leave more than $800,000 to create scholarships at the University of Kansas.

Gipson, a 1950 KU alumnus from Pleasant Hill, Mo., lived a simple life, volunteering as a church organist for more than 50 years. He passed away in May 2009 at the age of 83, leaving an estate of more than $1 million.

Through the years, KU remained important to Gipson. As early as 1976, he contacted KU Endowment to obtain information about estate planning. His gift to KU, recently received by KU Endowment, created endowed scholarships that will benefit students in perpetuity. Gipson designated that the bulk of the remainder of his estate go to his church, St. Bridget Parish, and the Pleasant Hill Historical Society.

Marcia McConville, a lifelong friend of Gipson’s, described him as an intelligent man who was humble and quiet. But when he spoke, it was with eloquence. Gipson lived all his life in a house his grandfather built. He resided there with his mother, who was a schoolteacher, and his grandparents. After they died, he stayed on.

Gipson wasn’t someone who thought he had to impress everyone, McConville said.

“He walked to town every day to get his mail,” she said. “His only television was a 13-inch black and white. He loved to work in his yard and grow beautiful flowers. He lived sparsely. I don’t think anyone would have realized how much wealth he had accumulated.”

McConville was with Gipson at the end of his life when he made estate plans to create KU scholarships in honor of his family.

“His greatest goal in life was to give to KU and to the church, that’s what he wanted to do,” McConville said. “The glory, he never wanted for himself. He never forgot why he was where he was, and he attributed that to his mother and grandparents. He was a good man to the core. Those of us who knew him were better for having known him. They were all good people.”

Gipson asked that his scholarships be named for his mother, Lelia Ima Gipson, and his grandparents, Samuel and Rosa Gipson.

“It’s heartwarming to know when KU has made such a positive impact on a person’s life that one of their final acts — even decades later, as with Mr. Gipson — is to reach out to help the university,” said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “The scholarships Mr. Gipson so generously created will assist generations of KU students.”

Gipson studied economics and business at KU and retired from the Social Security Administration in the early 1980s. He was an active member of St. Bridget Catholic Church, where in the late 1950s, he volunteered to fill in as organist. His “temporary” stint as organist lasted more than 50 years, and when St. Bridget built a new church, Gipson volunteered to buy a new organ for the church. He also was a long-time board member of the Pleasant Hill Historical Society.

Dale Seuferling, president of KU Endowment, said bequests such as Gipson’s indicate the important role a university continues to play long after graduates earn their diplomas.

“We are honored that Mr. Gipson thought so highly of KU that — even at the end of his life — he formalized plans to create scholarships,” Seuferling said. “It’s a compassionate and lasting way to help KU students, as well as honor his loved ones.”

The gift will be managed by KU Endowment, the official fundraising and fund-management foundation for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

Rosita McCoy

Senior Vice President, Communications and Marketing 785-832-7336

Michelle Tevis

Senior Editor, Media Relations 785-832-7363