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A Forward-Thinking Legacy

November 29, 2018

By Jodi Auvin

Today, more than half of medical students and more than a third of physicians in the United States are women. In the early 1950s, however, when Mary Goepfert, ’47 B.S., ’51 M.D., began practicing internal medicine, only about 6 percent of physicians were women, a fact that didn’t deter her one bit. She had a calling, coupled with an unconventional outlook on life.

The youngest of four daughters, Goepfert was born in 1928 to Roy and Valborg Goepfert. Her mother died in childbirth, so Goepfert was raised by her mother’s sister, Marbry Duryea, a physician and 1924 graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School. At age 4, after helping a friend with an injury, Goepfert realized she too wanted to be a physician, and was actively encouraged by her aunt.

A stellar student, Goepfert attended the University of Minnesota from high school through medical school, earning an undergraduate degree in math at age 19 and a doctorate in internal medicine when she was only 23. Later still, she earned a Ph.D. in psychiatry. She practiced medicine for 33 years in Chicago, Washington D.C., Arkansas, and Minnesota, then spent the next 20 years practicing psychiatry in Wilmar, Minnesota.

She was also an early champion of what was then called complementary and alternative medicine. To further her knowledge, she audited classes at Capital University of Integrative Medicine in Washington D.C., an early leader in the field. Throughout her career, she maintained strong ties with the U of M, especially medical school faculty and alumni, and visited the campus regularly. She retired in 2004.

As passionate about her avocations as she was about health and wellbeing, Goepfert read voraciously, enjoyed meeting people, and loved traveling the United States by car, visiting every state except Hawaii. She also took long drives every Sunday with her aunt, which sparked another interest—real estate. Her first purchase, made in the 1950s, was 160 acres of land near Hudson, Wisconsin. She paid $50 an acre, which she sold 43 years later for a healthy profit. Later, she bought land in South Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, which became foundational to her investments. In keeping with her love of math, she managed her portfolio herself.

These chapters of Goepfert’s life set the stage for her remarkable legacy gift to the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing. After meeting in 2003 with the Center’s founder and director, Mary Jo Kreitzer, Ph.D., F.N., F.A.A.N., Goepfert established two trusts, the first to honor her Aunt Marbry and the second to honor her close friend Edward Wine. Following Goepfert’s death in 2017 at age 88, the trusts, among the largest gifts the Center has ever received, were utilized to fulfill her wishes, establishing the Center’s first chair—the Leadership Chair in Integrative Health and Wellbeing—with $3 million.

“We’re thrilled by this,” says Kreitzer, the inaugural holder. “Mary had great pride in the U and saw the importance and potential of the Center. An endowed position provides immediate support while ensuring sustainability—and our legacy—into the future.”

Endowed chairs play an invaluable role at colleges and universities. In addition to providing a perpetual source of income, they’re considered the gold standard for recruiting and retaining top talent and supporting academic endeavors.

The Center has been working on establishing a chair since 2015, the year of its 20th anniversary. “We asked a number of donors to help us generate the beginnings of support,” says Dianne Lev, the Center’s development director, noting that it takes a minimum of $2 million to permanently endow a chair. A group of devoted supporters made gifts—Ruth and Dale Bachman, Gary and Nanci Smaby, David and Mary Ann Wark, the Roth-Laube Family (Lydia, Herb, Justin, and Josh), and Charlson Meadows, a renewal center led by president Nancy Nelson.

Goepfert’s trust provided the remaining funding required for the endowed chair to go into effect in fiscal year 2019. “The timing is auspicious in that the Center will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2020,” notes Lev. “The chair honors Dr. Kreitzer’s visionary leadership and will support the work of the Center’s future leaders.”

Additional monies from Goepfert’s trust— just over $1 million—launched the Center’s newly created Strategic Innovation Fund. “The Center is adept at incubating ideas,” says Lev. “The Fund will help provide the resources required to turn those ideas into pilot projects and diminish the risk of missed opportunity.” For more information about the Strategic Innovation Fund, see page 22.

“Philanthropy often plays a key role in enabling an organization to meet a need,” says Kreitzer. “Often, it’s a decade or more before gifts come to fruition.


Mary had a deep interest in integrative medicine. Her gift speak to her foresight and to the impact integrative medicine can make.” +++


autumn18 mandala cover

Mandala is a biannual magazine produced by Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing. It captures the core aspects of the Center: reflection, transformation, spirituality, creation, and the ongoing journey that continues to shape what we are to become.

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