A Family Tradition

By Robyn Murray

Jack and Judy Crowley

Jack and Judy Crowley

A lot has changed at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in the last 60 years.

For one, the name. Kearney State College was a small school of about 2,000 students in the 1960s where teaching was the focus and the cost to attend was typically less than $100 a semester.

Today, UNK is a sprawling campus of three colleges and nearly 7,000 students, 120 undergraduate majors and 27 graduate programs. It’s also an economic engine in Kearney and the surrounding communities. Tuition has gone up a bit, too.

For Burnett Society members Jack and Judy Crowley, who graduated from Kearney State in 1960 and now reside in Hastings, watching the campus grow and change has been inspiring.

“Compared to when we were there to today, there’s no comparison,” said Jack. “It’s beautiful. They’ve done a great job. There’s been a lot of new buildings. It’s a wonderful university. I’m glad we’ve got it so close.”

For the Crowleys, UNK is more than a university. It’s a family tradition.

They both studied education at Kearney State. Jack’s sisters, Pat and Peggy, and his brothers, Jim and Ed, all attended the university.

All told, nine Crowley siblings and spouses attended Kearney State.

“We feel we have our own alumni association,” Jack said.

The Crowleys are longtime supporters of UNK. In 2011, they gave a $100,000 gift to establish the Crowley Family Endowed Scholarship, which aims to support Central Community College students who want to earn a four-year degree. They have also set up a planned gift, through a charitable gift annuity, to provide scholarship support for UNK students.

It’s a fitting tribute to the many family members, now deceased, who loved and benefited from the university.

“It’s been in our family,” said Judy. “That’s why it was important to us.”

While they didn’t receive scholarships as students, Jack says they know how important financial support is for students today.

“Scholarships weren’t a big deal back then, but they didn’t need to be,” he said. “It’s different today.”

The Crowleys, who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, regularly receive letters from their scholarship recipients expressing their gratitude and letting them know the impact of their support. But the influence of Jack and Judy’s lives in Kearney and Hastings, where they have resided since 1966, goes far beyond UNK.

After retiring from a career at Sears and owning several clothing stores locally, Jack started the Central Community College Foundation, which provides scholarship support to numerous students and grew to a $7 million foundation under his leadership. He has served on the boards of several banks and economic development corporations, the Kearney State and Kearney Public Schools foundations, the YMCA and Hastings Area foundations as well as the Madonna Foundation and Catholic Social Services. He has been recognized with several service awards and was named to the Central Community College Hall of Fame.

“He’s given all his life, one way or another,” Judy said.

Not that he would enjoy listing his accomplishments. In fact, the Crowleys would rather not talk about their generosity.

“This is our own little thing,” Judy said. “Just a quiet thing we do on the side.”

But if hearing their story motivates others to give, it’s worth the discomfort of being in the spotlight, Jack said, adding that people often don’t realize the impact they can have or their true capacity to give.

“I think you gain so much by what you give,” he said. “I think it really helps your life.”

“You get it back, no matter what you give,” Judy said. “Your reward comes back to you some way or other.”

Even if the reward is simply getting to be with other people who give.

“People that give are happy people,” Jack said, “and they’re fun to visit with.”