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Senior Development Officer
Intercollegiate Athletics
UI Foundation News
500 Levitt Center for University Advancement
Iowa City IA 52242
Phone: (319) 335-3305 or (800) 648-6973

Release: Oct. 31, 2001

EDITORS: Please see next-to-last paragraph of this release for information about past major gifts to UI Athletics, and note that jpg files of the original letter from Nile Kinnick to Esther Smith are attached to electronic versions of this release.

Smiths—friends of Hawkeye legend Nile Kinnick--leave major gift to UI Athletics

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa men's and women's athletics will benefit equally from a $1.78 million bequest to the UI Foundation from the estate of the late Roland and Esther Smith, owners of Smith's Cafe, a longtime Iowa City fixture, and friends of legendary Hawkeye athlete Nile Kinnick.

Foundation officials said this is the largest gift ever made to UI women's athletics, and the largest unrestricted gift given to UI men's athletics. According to UI Foundation President Michael New, gifts such as this, where the donors have left the specific use of the funds to the discretion of the UI program to which it was directed, are exceptionally valuable and offer great flexibility to meet needs and opportunities as they arise.

Bob Bowlsby, director of athletics at the UI, said of the Smith bequest, "We expect that up to half of these funds will be placed in scholarship endowments for women and men. This will provide support for our program in perpetuity and will keep the Smiths' name close to the Hawkeyes forever. Additionally, we will look for future projects that are consistent with Mr. and Mrs. Smith's interests in the athletics programs, and that will provide a visible and long-lasting benefit to our student athletes.

"Roland and Esther Smith were tremendous friends of our university and our athletics program," Bowlsby added. "They are missed, but their generosity will serve our program long after those who knew them personally are gone."

New said of the Smiths' gift, "Roland and Esther Smith's generosity and foresight in planning this major gift to the UI shows their deep devotion to the community and to all UI students -- not to mention their love for UI athletics. We are very grateful for their bequest, and for their trust in the University of Iowa Foundation."

The Smiths employed many UI students at their downtown café, which was in business from 1921 to the 1960s (though the Smiths sold it to new owners in the early 1940s). The couple gave away countless free meals to students during the Depression years and were consistent and generous donors to the UI—especially the athletics program—even though neither Roland nor Esther Smith attended the University of Iowa. Due to their longtime generosity, and in their honor, the employee lunchroom in the Levitt Center for University Advancement, where the UI Foundation has its offices, is named Smith's Commons, and is decorated in a historical Iowa City motif.

Bob Sierk, president of Firstar Bank in Iowa City, knew both Roland and Esther Smith, and Firstar Bank administered the Smith trust. He said, "The Smiths loved our community, our university, and our Hawkeyes. It certainly is fitting with their interests that they designated this money for the UI."

Firstar Bank has also passed on to the UI Foundation a letter, found among Esther Smith's papers, that was written by the Smiths' friend, Nile Kinnick, the late Iowa football star and scholar. Kinnick wrote the letter to Esther Smith during WW II, when he was stationed in the U.S. and undergoing military flight training. He thanked Esther for her gift of brownies and remarked, "[Give me] the state of Iowa, where all the people are straightforward and friendly... there will come a day when I'll sit in your living room again and munch your delicious brownies, when we'll drive to C.R. in the rain or out to the I.C. Country Club for dinner. That will be 'when the lights come on again all over the world.'" It is expected that Kinnick's letter to Esther Smith will eventually be publicly displayed in the UI Athletics' Hall of Fame and Visitors Center, which is under construction west of Mormon Trek Road in Iowa City.

"It seems that this letter should have its appropriate place with UI memorabilia because of Nile Kinnick's place in the University of Iowa's history." Sierk said, adding that Kinnick worked part-time at the bank (then First National Bank) while attending the UI.

Prior to the Smith estate gift, the largest gifts made to Hawkeye athletics were Roy Karro's $3 million contribution for the UI Athletics Hall of Fame, currently under construction; $1.64 million from the late Roy J. Carver Sr., for Carver-Hawkeye arena; $1.1 million from the late Christian G. "Dutch" Schmidt and Julia Schmidt to fund a variety of athletic scholarships; and $1 million from Richard O. Jacobson for the Jacobson Athletic Building. The largest donation made specifically to UI women's athletics was $250,000 from John and Peg Slusher, to endow a scholarship for the women's softball catcher position.

The UI Foundation is the preferred channel for private contributions to all areas of the university. Foundation staff work with alumni and friends to generate funds for scholarships, professorships, facilities improvements, equipment purchases, research and other UI initiatives.

For image of Kinnick's letter, click on following web address: