She grew up a banker’s daughter and over a lifetime accrued some wealth in the stock market, but Dorothy McNeill Tucker wasn’t going to spend her money just anywhere.
When the University of Minnesota proposed an endowment for scholars researching the challenges facing women and girls in athletics, Tucker found her calling. She contributed $1 million to start the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport in 1993, and in 2001 contributed another $1 million. It remains the only research center of its kind.
Tucker, 93, died Aug. 12 at a care center in Kerrville, Texas, where she had lived for many years.
“Anybody can endow a chair in economics or psychology; all universities have those. But I walk to a different drummer and I wanted my gift to have impact,” Tucker said in a Star Tribune story after making her first gift.
Owing to the Tucker Center, her influence in Minnesota continues to this day. “She wanted to do something that wasn’t done before, that would have significant impact on society,” said Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center.
The Wisconsin native had a long academic track record that included graduating from the U in 1945 with a degree in recreational leadership.
Tucker enrolled at the U in 1941, when “there suddenly weren’t any men” because of World War II, she said later. She devoted her energies to becoming president of both the Panhellenic Association sorority group and the senior leadership cabinet, joining the yearbook committee and intramural basketball and volleyball.
She earned a doctorate in physical education at the University of California, Los Angeles, and became the first tenured woman on the faculty at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona.
Kane was a sports sociology professor at the U when she designed a plan to research topics unique to women in sports, such as how the media portray female athletes. When a university development officer told Tucker about Kane’s proposal, she agreed to fund it.
“Her passion and commitment was about being a pioneer. There is no such thing like this in the country or the world,” Kane said.
Former U President Bob Bruininks was dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the time that Tucker donated her first million. It was then the largest gift from an individual donor to that school.
“She valued leadership, she valued the creation of opportunity for young girls and women to get engaged in physical activity,” Bruininks said. “She had faith in the University of Minnesota and a firm belief that this financial commitment was truly a long-term noble cause.”
Bruininks said Tucker was a “shrewd negotiator” who expected the U to match her contributions.
Years later, after the Tucker Center was established, she came to Minnesota four times a year as a trustee. She called her gift “a way of spreading the light, of building a path where now there is none.”
She said of her decision: “The joy of giving yields rewards beyond belief. It’s the most exciting experience of my life.”
Tucker was described in the Star Tribune story as “spicy and spunky, candid and warm, her speech sparked with Texas hyperbole, vintage metaphors and the gentle Midwestern self-deprecation of women of a certain age.”
“Her legacy is the Tucker Center, and that will endure,” Kane said this week.
Tucker’s husband, Elbridge, died in 1991. Services will be held at a later date, according to an obituary announcing her death.