From the President
Top of the News
Alumni Programs
Cole Hall Special
Builders of Excellence
Alumni Notes
Special Features
Email Us


Charles Kopke Embodies Philanthropic Spirit

Every 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.

A 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 Southwestern.

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 curlers?”

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. Air Force).

“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,” Kopke concludes.

Pictures: Top Right - Charles Kopke in 1946; Left - President Dick Merriman presents Charles Kopke the Southwestern College Servant Leadership award during Commencement 2001.