Recruiting the best and brightest students is couple's legacy

Rick and Betty Ann Gardner

After losing his wife, Betty Ann, to Alzheimer's, Rick Gardner is continuing their shared belief in helping CU students with a planned gift.

Rick Gardner and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, met as graduate students at the University of Nevada Reno in 1966. He was a first-year doctoral student in experimental psychology, and she was a first-year master's student in clinical psychology.

"Her boyfriend at the time introduced us, ironically," says Rick, a professor emeritus of psychology at University of Colorado Denver. "Our first meeting didn't go very well. I apparently didn't make a favorable impression with her, but it got better. We were married for 50 years. It was a wonderful love story."

Betty Ann died on Christmas Eve 2017 after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer's disease. A mother of two, during her life she worked as a social worker, adjunct professor of psychology, elementary school counselor and attorney.

"She was a wonderful woman, so kind and so considerate. Always putting other people's needs above her own," Rick says. "We were really a team, and I miss her very, very much."

This shared compassion to help others is a driving force behind the Gardners' desire to support graduate students at CU. When they were in graduate school at Reno, the couple were both supported financially by the university, but there wasn't much money to get by on.

"As I got near the end of my PhD, I thought if I was ever able to help other graduate students, I would. I knew my wife felt the same way," he says. "As you get to my tender age, you do start to think about your legacy...I wanted to make a gift that would continue to give after I'm gone."

In 2007, the couple made their first annual gift to support two PhD students in the new clinical health PhD program at CU Denver—it was an area they both believed in very much, Rick says, and have contributed to every year since. With the couple's permission, the purpose of their giving has since evolved to help recruitment efforts for the program, and the couple also established an endowment to fund these efforts in perpetuity.

"This ups the ante, so to speak, and as a result we get the top qualifying students applying for the program," he says. "My wife, before her dementia caught up with her, and I had many conversations and we were in complete agreement about this."

Last year the program had 200 applicants and only admits five students annually, Rick explains. Top students often have competitive offers from interested universities and colleges, so additional funding helps attract and retain the best and brightest to CU Denver.

"When you get the best students, they graduate, they accomplish great things, they do research, and they establish a reputation—these are all things that reflect well on the psychology department and the university," he says. "I hope this inspires other faculty members to think along similar lines."

Rick says he was happy and proud to be in a situation where he and his wife could make a planned gift.

"It gives me a great deal of joy to make these gifts and meet students who receive the gifts and see how it affects their lives," he says. "It has been very rewarding to me and was to my wife as well."

Learn how your giving to CU can last a lifetime—contact the Office of Gift Planning at 303-541-1229 today.