A woman known for her generous giving to the University of Wyoming and hailed as a leader among donors died March 1 at her home in Arizona at the age of 90. Marian H. Rochelle, whose name adorns the iconic Gateway Center on the far southeast corner of campus, leaves behind testaments to the historic philanthropy she — often alongside her husband Curt Rochelle — showed the university.
Either singly or with Curt before his death in 2005, Marian contributed $25 million to UW, supporting nearly every facet of the university, including athletics, academics, campus beautification and more.
“Through the years, I’ve always marveled at the amazing individuals who give very, very generously,” UW Foundation President and CEO Ben Blalock said. “I will say that it is exceptional and quite rare to find someone who I would label to be a true philanthropist, and Marian was a true philanthropist.
She was passionate about giving.”
Throughout the past two decades, UW has been the beneficiary of many large private donations, but this pattern of giving is relatively new, Blalock said, and the Rochelles are responsible for kicking it off.
“Between 1886 and 1995, the University of Wyoming only had 11 gifts of $1 million or more — one of those came from Curt and Marian Rochelle,” he said. “And then, since that time, there have been another 146 gifts of $1 million or more.”
Blalock added Marian had a “stunning impact” on philanthropy at the university, and can be credited with bringing UW into the “modern era” of private gift-giving.
“There are certain individuals who truly are willing to give first, to really step out in front and be the leadership contributors — and from that, others will be motivated,” Blalock said. “Marian was that giver who would give first, and she would give in a manner that would really incent others to step up and say, ‘If Marian supports this project, then I, too, believe in this project and I will support it.’”
In 1998, Marian and Curt donated $4.5 million for construction of what would come to be known as the Rochelle Athletic Center, setting a historic record for UW.
“That gift was the university’s first time to really have an outright gift — not an estate gift, an outright gift — of several million dollars,” Blalock said. “It changed everything.”
The Rochelles previously established an animal science professorship in the College of Agriculture, and Marian would continue to donate to UW and other causes in the 13 years following Curt’s death.
Marian’s daughter, UW Foundation Board Chair April Brimmer Kunz, said her mother donated to health research, veterans groups and animal shelters, but also believed strongly in supporting higher education.
“It was her No. 1 priority and part of it is the old adage that’s been around for a long time — it’s become a bit of a cliché — education is the one thing no one can ever take away from you,” Kunz said. “She believed that people could better themselves through education.”
Marian donated another $3 million for the academic center within the athletic center, $1.5 million for a campus beautification fund that provides for trees, benches and other ornaments on campus, $1 million for the High Bay Research Facility — with an additional $500,000 to support research at High Bay — and honored her first late husband, William Brimmer, with a $1 million donation for the College of Law’s Brimmer Legal Education Center.
Kunz said Marian’s belief in education pushed her to do even more.
“She put many people through college, not only her own family, but people who did not have the means to go to college,” Kunz said. “Some were the first in their families to go to college and she financed their entire education. She gave them the opportunity — most took advantage of it and graduated, some did not. But she was always very generous in trying to help people to better themselves.”
The largest contribution, however, came when Marian donated the initial $10 million for the Gateway Center that now bears her name.
“It could never have happened — never have happened — except for the decision that Marian made to put forward $10 million for the building,” Blalock said. “From the time Marian gave, we were able to bring together $35 million in private support, and we were able to do that in just 18 months.”
The “Breakin’ Through” sculpture just north of the Gateway Center honors Marian. The sculpture depicts a horse and rider, but — setting it apart from the other horse-and-rider statues on campus — the rider is a cowgirl, rather than a cowboy.
If the cowgirl could get off the horse and stand on her feet, she would stand 9 feet tall, Kunz and Blalock said, making the sculpture a perfect tribute for a woman who was “larger than life.”