Kearney’s Carol Cope Transformed Her Community

Few individuals have had a bigger impact on Central Nebraska than the late Carol Cope, who died in September on her 103rd birthday. For 30 years, Carol and her husband, the late Ron Cope, operated a number of shoe stores in central Nebraska; they invested in farmland and were early investors in Berkshire Hathaway Co.

Their lifetime of generosity changed the face of Kearney, Neb., where the couple made their home, but also had deep impact on a number of organizations, including NET. Carol was a longtime member/supporter of NET Television and Radio and enjoyed attending NET events, including several “Live from the Mill” events in Kearney at the Museum of Nebraska Art (which she generously supported) and the “Canteen Spirit” premiere in North Platte in 2004.

NET Television’s Nebraska Philanthropy series recently featured Carol. You can view Carol’s tribute at netnebraska.org/givingback by clicking on “Episode 103” in the “Past Episodes” section.

Through the Ron and Carol Cope Charitable Foundation, an estimated $15 million to $20 million supported causes and organizations in Kearney and Nebraska. The foundation will continue to operate, ensuring a future impact. The Copes supported education, religion, the fine arts, health care and many other causes. And many of their gifts were private or anonymous. But the Cope name adorns a number of buildings in Kearney, including the Ron and Carol Cope Nebraska Center for Safety Education and Research at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (1981); the Cope Gallery at the Museum of Nebraska Art (1986); UNK’s Cope Fountain (1995); the Kearney Family YMCA’s Ron and Carol Cope Child Development Center (2001); the Ron and Carol Cope Amphitheater at Yanney Heritage Park (2002); the Cope Coliseum at Kearney Catholic High School (2007); the Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at UNK (2005); Ron and Carol Cope Grand Lobby at Merryman Performing Arts Center (2006;) and most recently, the Ron and Carol Cope Heart Center at Good Samaritan Hospital (2012).

Peter Kotsiopulos, vice president of the University of Nebraska Foundation and a  former mayor of Kearney, was a long-time personal friend of both Carol and Ron Cope.

“Carol Cope was the pinnacle of what it means to give back and pay it forward,” Kotsiopulos said. “A true class act. When she spoke, you knew you should listen and that you would learn. She was gracious, hospitable, polite, caring, humorous when appropriate, and above all fair. Carol was  truly a remarkable person. I was truly blessed to know her since I was a youth.”

While Carol’s largesse resulted in bricks and mortar structures and created long-lasting programs of service, she also was exceptionally generous with her time, advocacy and leadership. After her death, her friends in Kearney described her as visionary and transformational. Her giving was guided, they said, by a desire to do best for her community to ensure future prosperity.

She was an active member of many organizations and foundations at the local and state level and was a 70-year Red Cross volunteer and a blood donor since 1952.

She was a past president of the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation, St. James Chapter of Catholic Daughters of America, Kearney Concert Association Board and Kearney Woman’s Club. Among her board affiliations are the University of Nebraska Foundation, Nebraska Aging Commission, Nebraska Sentencing Review Board, Great Platte River Road Archway, Good Samaritan Hospital, Humane Society, Kearney Area Community Foundation, Kearney Area Symphony Orchestra, Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney Performing Arts Center, Nebraska Safety Center, Buffalo County Historical Society, Kearney Family YMCA and S.A.F.E. Center.

Carol Cope grew up in Pawnee County and earned a music degree from the University of Nebraska. She taught music in North Platte and in Lincoln, then moved to California where she was a professional accompanist while working on a master’s degree, which she earned from the University of California, Los Angeles. She married Ron Cope in 1939 in Steinauer. He was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in November 1974 and served from 1975 to 1983.

The Copes’ legacy of giving and service exemplifies a zest for philanthropy and for enhancing their community. NET salutes Carol Cope and applauds her example of giving to benefit the future.