Local family donates $2 million to UTRGV

EDINBURG — University of Texas Rio Grande Valley officials announced the largest donation to the institution since it was created, a gift of $2 million by the Vackar family, owners of the local Bert Ogden car dealerships.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey, joined by Robert and Janet Vackar, announced the donation during a ceremony at the Performing Arts Center yesterday morning.

“This is a seminal event in the history of our institution,” Bailey said. “An endowed scholarship of this magnitude means that students will forever benefit from the generosity of the Vackar family.”

The money will be used to create two endowed scholarship funds — $1 million for the Janet Vackar scholarship for mass communication in the college of liberal arts and $1 million for the Robert Vackar scholarship for the college of business and entrepreneurship.

Endowed funds are invested by the university to use earned income to provide scholarships, allowing the university to use the funds forever and donors to continue adding funds to the endowment if desired.

Janet Vackar said the family discussed the donation and agreed on where they wanted the scholarships to go based on their ties to those particular colleges.

She recalled her time as a communication major studying TV production at UT-Pan American and her father’s — Bert Ogden — love for local students, who she said have always been some of the business’ best customers, and many of those in the business realm are now their employees as well.

“It’s a great decision between the two of us,” she said. “Our family discussed it, and we are 100 percent supportive of the university… We are very proud to donate.”

Robert Vackar said the university continues to have an impact on their business as they rely on hiring well-prepared graduates to manage the car dealerships.

“These are young people that have moved up quite rapidly and done quite well,” he said. “Every one of our graduates have done so well in all of our positions.”

The couple also announced their intent to donate $80,000 to grow the Susan L. Vackar Clark endowed foundation, which was created in April with a $10,000 donation in memory of Robert Vackar’s sister, who graduated from UTPA 1963.

The fact that this is the largest donation received by UTRGV is important not only for its main purpose to support and encourage students, Bailey said, but to also set a bar for possible donors in the Valley.

“It will have an enormous impact on students and students’ ability to go to school,” he said. “In addition to that, it sets a pattern in philanthropy that we should aim for going forward.”

Bailey said it can be hard to instill that philanthropic mentality at smaller universities where the culture of philanthropy doesn’t really exist. So donations such as this one work to create that base that the university can use to build upward.

“The first one is always the most important,” he said. “This gift will be a foundation … once you get that culture built, it becomes easier to raise money.”

This is also the greatest donation ever received by the college of liberal arts, said Walter Diaz, dean of the college of liberal arts, and he hopes it will allow the university to attract and retain students who would otherwise struggle to pay for school.

“Both campuses are heavily commuter campuses, and students can live very complicated lives, so financial support, great or small, can make a great difference for their success,” Diaz said.

dperez-hernandez@themonitor.com