An entrepreneur whose vision and generosity are helping engineers reimagine research and learning and a student group that has raised more than $10 million to help sick children are among the philanthropists and leaders honored during the annual University of Florida Academy of Golden Gators celebration on Friday, March 4.
Miami couple Herbert and Nicole Wertheim and the student group Dance Marathon were honored along with Mary Ann and David Cofrin and the Cofrin family, Jim and Alexis Pugh, and Ken and Linda McGurn during the university’s third annual Academy of Golden Gators, which recognizes philanthropists and volunteers for investing through the university to improve lives through world-class research, teaching and service.
“All of us — not just the University of Florida but, more importantly, the people who UF serves — are better off today because of the kindness and care of these amazing Gators,” UF President Kent Fuchs said. “Their volunteering and investments through UF enrich lives and are helping us solve humankind’s greatest problems.”
Transformational Leadership Award
Dr. Herbert Wertheim and his wife, Nicole’s, $50 million gift this past fall is the second-largest ever to the university, and launched a $300 million initiative to expand and reimagine engineering education and discovery in the 21st century. Founder and CEO of Brain Power Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of ophthalmic instruments and chemicals, Dr. Wertheim attended UF in the early 1960s before becoming a scientist, clinician, entrepreneur, philanthropist and community leader whose discoveries and contributions in eye care and other scientific fields have touched millions. In all, the Wertheims have contributed more than $100 million to Florida public higher education. Their investment in UF puts the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering on the forefront of engineering education, research and technology development.
Lifetime Philanthropy Award
Mary Ann Cofrin and her family have contributed more than $63 million to their hometown university, most notably for UF’s Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, which is named in her father’s memory. She and her late husband, Dr. David Cofrin, have a long history of supporting the arts, education, nature preservation, health care and community development. The Mary Ann Cofrin Pavilion in the Harn Museum is named in her honor, and their gifts include the Cofrin Curator of Asian Art, Mary Ann Harn Cofrin Chair in Urological Bioengineering, David A. Cofrin Chair in Urological Oncology and Samuel P. Harn Eminent Scholar Chair.
Annual Volunteers Award
Jim and Alexis Pugh, an Orlando couple well known for their civic leadership, donated $6 million in 2005 to construct Pugh Hall on UF’s campus. Their UF philanthropic interests also include the Bob Graham Center Fund for Excellence, Jim Pugh Golf Endowment and other campus programs. Jim Pugh is considered one of the nation’s “giants” among home builders, and his Epoch Properties is annually ranked within the Top 50 multi-family builders in the U.S. Alexis has more than 40 years’ experience in advertising and public affairs. Jim earned a UF building construction degree in 1963. Jim and Alexis, who received her journalism degree at West Virginia University, serve on the UF Foundation Board.
Lifetime Volunteer Award
Ken and Linda McGurn are active on UF volunteer leadership boards and numerous Gainesville community organizations. They have invested more than $2.9 million in UF, mostly in the Warrington College of Business and Florida Museum of Natural History. Through the McGurn Management Company, they have helped revitalize downtown Gainesville, and have received more than 50 local, state, regional and national awards, including The Gainesville Sun’s “50 People Who Made a Difference in North Central Florida Over the Last Century.” Ken earned three UF business degrees — a bachelor’s in 1972, master’s in 1973 and doctorate in 1981; Linda earned a bachelor’s in business in 1973 and law degree in 1978.
Young Philanthropist Award
Since 1995, UF students have been standing For The Kids. For more than two decades, the student-run philanthropy, Dance Marathon at UF, has raised more than $10 million to support Children’s Miracle Network at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. The yearlong fundraising efforts culminate each spring with students standing on their feet for 26.2 hours to symbolize the obstacles pediatric patients and their families often face while in the hospital. Dance Marathon at UF began in 1995 as one of the five founding Dance Marathon programs in the nation. Last year, more than 8,000 students were involved in the planning and fundraising that propelled Dance Marathon at UF into the second largest fundraising program in the country, with a record $2 million raised. The monies raised support Children’s Miracle Network at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital through the UF College of Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics and help fund medical research, equipment, and programs and support for the more than 100,000 patients served annually.
The Academy of Golden Gators reflects UF’s aspiration to be one of the most influential and impactful universities by recognizing philanthropists whose courage to care enables UF to touch lives throughout the world. The academy honors the generosity and vision of donors and volunteers who embody the spirit of the University of Florida family.
The University of Florida is one of the nation’s most comprehensive universities. It has a long history of established programs in international education, research and service, and is one of only 17 public, land-grant universities that belong to the prestigious Association of American Universities.