When Ernie Kuehne (’66) came to the university on a track scholarship, he knew it was taking him away from his family’s cotton farm in the hardscrabble town of Otto, where he grew up.
But he didn’t know then just how different his world would become. Kuehne graduated with a political science degree, earned his law degree and became a success in the oil and banking industry. Now the managing partner of Kuehne and Shilling LLC law firm, he is at the top of the ladder.
But he has never forgotten the athletics program or the university that helped him take that first step. He returned the favor by donating $1 million to UNT’s athletics program to support student-athletes and athletic facilities, including the new football stadium at Mean Green Village that will open this fall.
And he’s hoping that his gift will help other UNT students blaze their own trail to success.
“North Texas and the athletic program gave a young man an opportunity to grow and create a path for his future. The impact it had on my life and later successes is immeasurable and I am humbled and honored that I can give back to help others do the same,” says Kuehne, whose three children became well-known golfers. “I challenge every North Texas alum and fan to step up and help move this university forward.”
Kuehne’s gift landed him in the university’s newly created Founder’s Circle, which recognizes those whose generous contributions of $250,000 or more are game-changers for UNT and its students.
The Founder’s Circle consists of three recognition societies — the McConnell Society, the Matthews Society and the Kendall Society. Each is named for a former president who left a deep and lasting impact on UNT, just as the supporters have who are part of the Founder’s Circle.
Kuehne’s gift earned him a spot in the McConnell Society, the most elite of the recognition societies. And it places him in great company, with fellow supporters whose gifts have supported landmark programs, buildings and initiatives.
“Anyone who supports UNT and our students is changing lives by giving the gift of opportunity, regardless of the amount of the gift or where the money is directed,” says Lisa Baronio, vice president for advancement and director of development of the UNT Foundation. “But we created the Founder’s Circle to recognize those whose contributions help opportunity knock much louder and much longer for our students.”
UNT Athletic Director Rick Villarreal says Kuehne’s gift will help the Mean Green continue aiming for the top.
“Gifts like these are validation of the progress we have made and the achievements that are possible,” Villarreal says.
“Ernie’s gift is making it possible for athletics to compete on a national basis and I hope others will follow his lead, whether to athletics or one of the many other outstanding areas of our university.”
President V. Lane Rawlins says the contributions of Founder’s Circle members signal to others that UNT is a place of excellence, worthy of the highest of investments.
“These gifts enable us to do what we do best: provide the best possible education to our students,” he says. “And with more gifts like these, we’ll become a university offering the best undergraduate education in Texas as well as a first-rate research university.”
Being part of the Founder’s Circle also encourages members to stay connected to the university through annual exclusive events such as the President’s Council Reception and the biennial Founder’s Circle dinner.
At these events, supporters often have the opportunity to meet UNT students and hear firsthand about the impact they are making on their lives.
“Our donors direct their gifts to areas that are meaningful to them, and our Founder’s Circle members are no exception. We work with them to provide the most impactful gift to the university, while providing a very gratifying gift experience to them personally,” Baronio says. “This gifting opportunity is very meaningful to the donors as well as to the recipients of their generosity.”
The McConnell Society
The McConnell Society recognizes those with contributions of $1 million or more.
The Matthews Society
The Matthews Society recognizes those with contributions between $500,000 and $999,999.
The Kendall Society
The Kendall Society recognizes those with contributions between $250,000 and $499,999.
To learn more, contact Kim Wendt, director of donor relations, at 940-565-3689 or firstname.lastname@example.org.