Paul Voertman, a graduate of the campus Demonstration School who attended North Texas in the 1940s, was the former owner of Denton's iconic Voertman's Bookstore, a patron of art and music, and one of UNT's most generous benefactors. He died June 21 at the age of 88. A celebration of his life Oct. 19 included a special concert at the Murchison Performing Arts Center on campus and tributes from friends and former and current faculty and administrators.
Paul Voertman viewed students and faculty -- particularly those in the arts and music -- as his family. He had a great appreciation for things done well (and great disdain for things not done well!) and he viewed the educational process at North Texas as emphatically in the former category. He revered the commitment and expertise of the faculty and administrators he saw as sharing his dedication to his greatest love: UNT students. And, as is now well known, he was unsparing in his support of those students.
Paul was an uncompromisingly honest man. To have his endorsement and support was something to be treasured. Paul recognized quality in people and in programs; he recognized the excellence of the UNT programs and he wanted to do what he could to ensure that their excellence continued. He did so very much for so many, and his bequest will ensure that he will continue to do so long into the future. Most importantly, Paul's support was provided, always, with great enthusiasm and love.
Paul was a friend with whom I often celebrated birthdays, occasions now that will remind me of the privilege of his friendship. He will be deeply missed. He was part of the fabric of the UNT and the greater Denton community. His contribution was as rare as it was incalculable.
— Dave Shrader, dean of the College of Music from 1992 to 1999
Paul Voertman was one of the most influential people in my life. I met Paul soon after coming to UNT. I knew of his generous gift of the organ for the Murchison Performing Arts Center and his planned gifts for the art, music and English programs. But I didn't know why he did those things or about the many other ways he helped students, friends and the people of Denton.
We often went out for lunch and dinner together or with friends. I sought his advice and learned from his experience at the store he ran for many years, the personal and business challenges he faced, and the joy he found in travel, bringing exquisite objects back to the store. He was a pillar of the cultural community. I was in regular contact with him until his death. Paul taught me a lot about passion, love, commitment, pride, generosity and humility. He helped make me a better person and a much better dean. I miss him very much.
— Robert Milnes, dean of the College of Visual Arts and Design from 2006 to 2014
My earliest recollection of Paul was being introduced to him as a new customer (and a new M.M. student) in 1968. Voertman's was a dazzling, sophisticated store where one could purchase music, books, school supplies, housewares and gifts. The employees were always welcoming, courteous and knowledgeable -- an image of the owner. Everything seemed to be "in order" -- and this was at a time when adjacent Fry Street was the center for the counter-culture activities of the 1960s in Denton.
Prior to my appointment as dean of the College of Music in 1988, Voertman's was one of my Denton destinations. It remained so, for I could always sense his passion for music and art in that space.
Paul's leadership was quiet, steady and thoughtful. His philanthropic benevolence has, and will, make a distinct difference in our lives and those of future generations.
Thank you, Paul, for enriching and enlarging each of us and those who follow at UNT and beyond.
— Robert Blocker ('70 M.M., '72 D.M.A.), dean of the College of Music from 1988 to 1991, current dean of the Yale School of Music
Paul's generosity of spirit always led him to go the second mile. While he provided for "his students" very well through his planned contributions, he seemed never to miss an opportunity to give them something extra for whatever might enhance their development. His only concern was that he would not have done enough for them. Their successes would always bring to his face the deepest of smiles that came straight from the heart.
— James Scott, dean of the College of Music from 2001 to 2015
After the bequest was announced, Paul would get letters in the mail from strangers asking for help. Some were obvious scams but others he responded to. He was a kind soul and he would rather err on the side of helping someone than deny them something they needed.
— Pat Hutton ('63 M.Ed., '78 M.B.A.), longtime friend and accountant
Paul bought one of my pots. That's how I met him. He asked me how much I wanted for it and I told him $5. That was a lot of money back then. He said, "I'll give you $10."
— Georgia 'Billie' Gough ('46 M.S.), Professor Emerita of art and ceramics program founder, who served on the faculty from 1947 to 1975
The store was packed with merchandise. When Paul came out of his office, he could always spot the empty space where something had been sold. He'd say, "Why don't you fill this up? Do you want people to think we're going out of business?"
His main concern was that customers were acknowledged. I always respected his management and his friendship.
— Sue Wahlert, who worked at Voertman's from 1965 to 2013
Mr. Voertman was passionate about UNT. He was practical and humble in his ideas and expectations and was sincere and thoughtful. He was interested in the people he engaged with. He missed his partner, and he loved his dog. Mr. Voertman was a person who lived with others in mind, and with hope and vision that he shared freely.
— Tracee Robertson ('94), director and curator of UNT Art Galleries
I met Paul soon after I came to Denton in August of 1971. The Voertman store was a Denton icon and everyone went there who wanted to find the expected from a college bookstore -- textbooks, art supplies, university-related clothing items, etc. -- as well as the unexpected -- a wide variety of carefully selected, high-end gift items. Gift wrapping was exceptional and complimentary when you purchased a gift there; everyone liked to receive a gift from Voertman's because it was so beautifully wrapped.
I soon learned that Paul and Dick, his life partner, were not only the consummate merchants, but that they were very interested in and supportive of the arts programs at UNT. For many years, Paul, Dick and the Voertman stores sponsored and underwrote an annual student exhibition -- the Voertman Competition -- which continues today. They provided funds for bringing a well-known, external juror to campus to select the work for the competition as well as funds for the cash awards to the students. For many years, Paul and Dick also offered a purchase prize for a work selected by the juror; these works became a part of their collection. Sometime during the 1980s, they decided that they had more art than they could accommodate so they gave to the university art program all of the student work that had been acquired as purchase prizes. These works became a part of the collection of what is known today as the College of Visual Arts and Design.
Paul was a kind man who deeply cared about students and their well-being. In addition to supporting the annual exhibition, he also provided, to what was then the Department of Art, a fund from which small temporary loans could be made to students who might be in a bind with their rent, their ability to buy the necessary art supplies needed for their classes, or some other financial concern. The loans were short term, one-semester loans that were interest free. He also provided scholarship money annually to be awarded to art students. Being the generous person that he was, there was hardly a fall semester that went by that Paul didn't call me, as chair, sometime in December and ask if there was anything that the department needed that we didn't have funds to purchase. Of course, I always had a long list.
Paul was a self-effacing man who did wonderful things for students, the university and the community quietly. He never wanted accolades or recognition. He just wanted his philanthropy to be used to address needs. His one overriding concern was that whatever he supported, he wanted it to be of high quality.
— D. Jack Davis, Professor Emeritus of art, who served on the faculty from 1971 to 2011 and as founding dean of the College of Visual Arts and Design from 1993 to 2004
Paul Voertman cherished the fine and performing arts, but he also valued the liberal arts, and the UNT College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences is deeply grateful for his long history of generous support. Numerous English, philosophy and other liberal arts majors, many of them the first in their families to attend college, have received much-needed scholarships from the Voertman-Ardoin Memorial Fund, and Mr. Voertman's generosity also enabled us to create and endow the Voertman Academy of American Poets prize in 2013. By empowering coming generations of liberal arts students and faculty to achieve dreams that might otherwise remain out of reach, Mr. Voertman's bequest will have a truly transformational impact on CLASS.
— David Holdeman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
I met Paul Voertman in the home of long-time friends Jim and Elizabeth Scott in June 2016. I knew of him by name and reputation, given his generous donation of the Richard Ardoin-Paul Voertman Concert Organ to UNT. News of this organ installation traveled like lightning across the profession and especially among music schools with accomplished organ programs.
Paul was the very embodiment of academic and artistic values, impeccable taste, generosity of heart and mind, and abiding commitment to student success. That August I was part of a private hooding ceremony at which UNT conferred an honorary doctorate on Paul, and I learned more of his stunning and historic legacy of support for the College of Music, the other colleges and our community over the years. I found myself in awe and truly humbled by his quiet, forceful standards of excellence and his tireless devotion to this university.
He has left us a legacy of encouragement, possibility, creativity and imagination in the College of Music. His bequest now will support students through scholarships, fellowships and investments in support of our UNT Opera, and support of the scholarly and creative endeavors of our college. Students we could not otherwise have recruited here will be able to choose UNT because of Paul. Faculty and students will be able to reach the fuller measure of their creative and scholarly potential, in part, because Paul removed structural impediments that otherwise would have constrained them.
He was a friend in the truest sense. He sought to help, to encourage, to challenge and to steward this great college to be ever better. In this, he succeeded mightily and we are forever grateful.
— John Richmond, dean of the College of Music
No other patron of the arts has had as great an impact on the College of Visual Arts and Design as Paul Voertman, whose generosity has benefited generations of students. For 57 years, the Voertman Student Art Competition has brought student artists rewards for their work along with outside validation from arts professionals. His contributions also have helped students complete creative and research projects, present at conferences, pursue internships and study abroad.
And his remarkable giving continues. His bequest to the college is slated to support scholarships and fellowships, focusing entirely on what he cared about -- our students. His extraordinary support has enriched the education of so many artists through the years and will continue to inspire boundless creativity -- and heartfelt gratitude -- for years to come.
— Greg Watts, dean of the College of Visual Arts and Design