Kopke Embodies Philanthropic Spirit
fall, new freshmen at Southwestern College are greeted by President
Dick Merriman at the opening of classes.
“This college is a philanthropy,” Merriman
tells the freshmen. “If you look at the pieces of that word,
‘phil’ and ‘anthropy,’ you can figure out
that it means ‘for the love of mankind.’ This college
exists because thousands of people, many of whom you and I will
never know, have built it over the last 119 years. And they built
it for your benefit.”
Perhaps no donor to the college better represents
this generosity “for the love of mankind” than Charles
Kopke ’44, co-chair of the Kansas City portion of the Builders
of Excellence capital campaign.
retired vice president of Commerce Bank in Kansas City, Kopke has
been a generous supporter of the college; students have benefited
form the scholarship established to honor his mother. But the college
is only one of the causes supported by Kopke and his wife, Verda.
He has been on the boards of directors of the Alliance for Epilepsy
Research, the American Diabetes Association, the Monnett Fund for
the Battle of Westport, and the Santa Claus Club.
This lifestyle of philanthropy, though, was made
possible through a foundation of hard work. Kopke’s parents
stressed education, and despite the economically depressed setting
of the Dust Bowl, sacrificed so that he and his sister could attend
During his five and a half semesters at SC, Kopke
worked to pay his expenses. Today he jokes about his campus job—waiting
tables in the women’s dorm.
“I’d have waited tables in Smith Hall
for free,” he says with a smile. “How many fellows got
to see girlfriends coming down for breakfast in their robes and
Kopke’s college years were interrupted by
World War II, when he was called up from the Army reserves for a
three-year term in the United States Army Air Corps (now the U.S.
“Since that time I have attended another
college and three universities, and I was struck at those times
with the realization of how well Southwestern had prepared me for
additional education and subsequently helped prepare me for my banking
career,” Kopke says.
This foundation in the liberal arts, he says, gives
students an educational advantage.
“A liberal arts education just exposes a
person to the world and makes for a well-rounded education,”
he says. “And the service and dedication that faculty members
at Southwestern have, their zeal in helping a person strive, is
just as good as anywhere that I’ve had any experience.”
This excellence of faculty (and corresponding excellence
of student), marked Kopke’s experience at Southwestern. But
he cautions against recalling perfection in every Southwestern moment.
“I’m pleased the A Cappella Choir doesn’t
have to rely on the bus we had when I was there,” he says
with a laugh. “On one occasion, we had to hitchhike into the
next town where we were to appear because it kept breaking down.”
Today Kopke is an important part of Southwestern’s
Kansas City campaign, as he teams with college officials to promote
Builders of Excellence.
Part of his enthusiasm for the campaign springs
from his satisfaction with the direction the college is moving today.
He singles out the vision of former President Carl Martin and of
President Dick Merriman in leading the college in the new century.
“My experience at Southwetern was just so
meaningful, and my observations over the years is that the environment
that the students have and the environments that the faculty help
structure are every bit as rewarding as the experience I had,”
Pictures: Top Right -
Charles Kopke in 1946; Left - President Dick Merriman presents Charles
Kopke the Southwestern College Servant Leadership award during Commencement