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Former Texas Public School Teacher Leaves Millions to UT-San Antonio

An elementary school teacher who became inspired to help low-income students finish college when she heard them lament about rising costs has left the bulk of her estate — estimated at $22 million — to the University of Texas at San Antonio for scholarships.

The endowment marks the largest single gift to UTSA, a Hispanic-serving Institution, in its 41-year history.

The donor, Mary E. McKinney, died last November at age 79. A shrewd investor but unassuming person, she made previous gifts totaling about $250,000. But unbeknownst to UTSA officials, she owned oil-rich land worth far more.

Just as surprising is the fact that McKinney’s sole connection to UTSA was through a few courses she took there once she’d retired, school officials said.

“This is as random as you can get,” says UTSA spokeswoman Marianne Lewis.

In her sixties, McKinney took UTSA courses such as Latin, history and philosophy from 1992-96 out of intellectual desire, Lewis says. She’d earned a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University and a master’s from the University of Texas at Austin before embarking on a 25-year career teaching in public and private schools in San Antonio.

While standing in line with other UTSA students registering for class, McKinney overheard some complaining to each other about needing more than one job to afford tuition. She immediately went to the school’s development office, repeated what she’d heard and insisted she wanted to make things easier for such students.

“She felt compelled to act,” Lewis says of McKinney. “The development officer stood there with her mouth open.”

McKinney’s first donation was $4,000 and by 1994, she established the Felix and Elizabeth McKinney Memorial Scholarship Fund in honor of her parents. The fund provides financially needy, full-time UTSA students with enough to cover all tuition and fees as long as they have completed at least 30 hours of course work — meaning, sophomores and upperclassmen — and have a grade-point average of 2.75 or higher. The awards are renewable, based on student need.

Marjie French, UTSA vice president for university advancement, says McKinney believed “students with strong academic records should not be prevented from completing their education due to a lack of financial resources.”

This school year, tuition and fees for in-state residents is running $8,410 at UTSA. Since its 1994 inception, the McKinney fund has assisted more than 100 students, officials say.

The new, much-larger gift will finance similar, renewable tuition-and-fees awards for additional sophomores and upperclassmen, Lewis says. Details are still being ironed out, but officials hope to begin disbursement by the 2011 fall semester, potentially helping hundreds of students annually.

UTSA enrolls 30,395 students, having grown about 40 percent the past decade. About 43 percent are Hispanic. Another 38 percent are White, 9 percent are Black and 6 percent are Asian. The retention rate of students who were freshmen in fall 2008 continuing as sophomores in fall 2009 was only 56 percent.

Dr. Ricardo Romo, UTSA president, announced McKinney’s gift during his annual State of the University address this week. “Miss McKinney was an outstanding, humble Texan who did not care for fame or recognition. An avid reader who only wanted to help students, she strongly felt education was the key to success. Through this extraordinary gift, she has established a legacy that will help generations of UTSA students.”

McKinney, who lived in San Antonio, wasn’t married and lacked immediate family.

UTSA officials say her estate is comprised of real estate, stocks and bonds. It includes 5,200 acres of ranchland south of San Antonio that her parents bought many decades ago, some for as little as $10 an acre. The land is now valued at about $13 million.

In yet another twist, a trustee for the estate determined after McKinney’s death that the land sits on Eagle Ford Shale, the most significant U.S. oilfield discovery the past 40 years. The trustee has brokered a drilling lease that will feed a 25 percent royalty from oil production directly into the new scholarship fund — meaning, more UTSA students will benefit from McKinney’s final wish.

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