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Marian H. Rochelle, Visionary Philanthropist

September 21, 2018
A woman and a man
Marian H. Rochelle with Gov. Matt Mead

Marian H. Rochelle, one of UW’s greatest supporters, transformed the university’s private giving programs and launched the modern era of philanthropy.

By Tamara Linse

Marian H. Rochelle believed in education. She believed that it helped people to better themselves, and it was something that could never be taken away. That’s one of the many reasons she believed so strongly in the University of Wyoming.

A student who received one of Rochelle’s scholarships wrote, “She changed my life by giving me free education. I will always remember her as an amazing giving person. Thank you, Marian H. Rochelle, for everything.”

“For our family, Mother—MomMom—will always be embodied as the woman breaking through a sandstone wall in the D. Michael Thomas bronze Breakin’ Through,” says Marian’s daughter April Brimmer Kunz. “It is appropriate that the bronze stands between the Gateway and the Rochelle Athletic Center that bear her name.”

“The celebration (of Marian) will continue for generations to come,” says Gov. Matt Mead. “Every time a student goes through the Rochelle Gateway Center, every time a student gets that job interview after graduating from the University of Wyoming, every time a student finds himself breaking through, or every time a student-athlete does well on the field or on the job.”

Marian gave unstintingly of her time and her resources. She helped many of UW’s students attend college and provided them with the facilities to support their success. Marian’s substantial investment in UW helped programs campuswide, including academics, athletics and campus beautification.

A Life Well-lived

Marian loved dogs and roses and the color blue. She was generous and kind—not only with her philanthropy but in all areas of her life.

“They were generous,” former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson says of Marian and her husband Curt. “Generous with their time, their talent and their treasure, obviously. But fun to be around. We remember that part of them more than many.”

Her generous nature made Marian an expert hostess, and she loved to entertain. She and Curt held legendary parties. Many people remember that her house in Arizona had a shuffleboard in the basement, which featured lively games.

“There were many times we visited with them here in Wyoming and in Arizona at their home,” Simpson says. “Super Bowl Sunday. They had a huge buffet and of course shuffleboard.”

“I love that,” adds Ann, Al’s spouse.

Marian was an impeccable dresser, and photos of her show off her poise. “She was a beautiful woman and very dynamic and intelligent,” Ann says. “That was my first impression—a real doer.”

“She was a sharp businesswoman, a sharp lady,” Al says. “You could tell you were dealing with a powerhouse. When she spoke, you listened, and when she laughed, you laughed because you couldn’t resist. She had fun.”

Indeed, Marian was independent and a savvy businesswoman—something that she was very proud of. She guided her own affairs separately from those of her husbands, to much success.

Marian was born in 1927 in Denver. She attended Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., and Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo., earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After graduation, Marian married William Wardwell, and they had a daughter, April. They divorced, and then in 1960, Marian married notable lawyer William N. Brimmer of Cheyenne. After William’s death in 1983, she married Curtis Rochelle of Rawlins. Curt was a businessman, rancher, UW trustee and state representative, and Marian and Curt were married until his death in 2005. In 2009, Marian remarried her first husband William. They were married until his death in 2012.

Marian passed away March 1, 2018, at the age of 90 in her winter home of Phoenix.

She led an adventurous life. Marian loved to travel and made it around the globe several times. She purportedly was the second woman to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Elegant as ever, she was mistaken by the crowd for the actor Elizabeth Taylor. Marian was the director of Fort Collins Consolidated Inc., an oil and gas company.

aughter, April Brimmer Kunz, has followed in her mother’s footsteps, generous and independent. A state representative and then senator, April is the first woman to serve as the president of the Wyoming Senate. She is also a past chair of the UW Foundation Board and is a philanthropist in her own right.

Marian was someone who embraced life, and in her later years, she felt she had achieved what she had set out to do, April says. Marian had no regrets. She will be greatly missed by all her many friends.

statue of a horse and rider breaking through a wall
The statue "Breakin’ Through" by D. Michael Thomas near the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center represents Marian’s zest for life.

Breaking Through in Philanthropy

Marian’s lifetime giving to UW surpassed $25 million. Not only that, but Marian’s philanthropic vision has transformed the university’s private giving programs and launched UW into the modern era of philanthropy.

“We also think about the many wonderful, wonderful gifts she gave to the University of Wyoming,” Mead says. “Brown and gold was made more vibrant by her many gifts—each gift varied and too many to count, but each wonderful.”

“The University of Wyoming is forever grateful to Marian Rochelle for her kindness and generosity,” says UW President Laurie S. Nichols. “Marian was a trailblazer, a strong and fiercely independent woman breaking glass ceilings before that was a well-known concept. She was an amazing woman who truly transformed higher education in Wyoming. More students are getting an even better education because of her financial support in hiring outstanding faculty and buildings. It is impossible to adequately honor the depth and breadth of her impact on UW.”

In 1992, Marian and her husband Curt established the Curtis and Marian Rochelle Chair in Animal Science in the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources with a gift of $1.1 million. This gift was one of the earliest endowed faculty positions created at UW.

Then, in 1998, Marian and Curt brought UW into the modern age of philanthropy with a $4.2 million gift that was the first in an exponential fundraising effort that changed the face of the university and its programs. This gift, the largest donation in university history at the time, created the iconic Rochelle Athletic Center. One of the most widely used facilities in UW Athletics, the Curtis and Marian Rochelle Athletics Center opened its doors in 2001 and serves the academic and athletic needs of all 17 Wyoming sports. The $9.4 million facility was entirely paid for by private donations from 167 donors.

Marian and Curt then gave a $1.5 million gift in 2001 that created a beautification fund for landscaping and art installations across campus. This fund continues to make a big impact—so much of the campus environment enjoyed by UW students, alumni and visitors is a direct result of this gift.

In 2006, Marian honored her late husband William Brimmer with a $1 million gift to create the William N. Brimmer Legal Education Center in the College of Law. This facility is a state-of-the-art, multidimensional space that can be configured as a high-tech courtroom, a classroom or a lecture hall to better prepare students for practice in modern courtrooms and also to host actual trial proceedings and other events.

In 2012, Marian donated more than $12 million for the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center, a dramatic, 67,000-plus-square-foot, $35 million welcoming center with a state-of-the-art technological infrastructure that, with the leadership of Marian, was funded entirely through private support. The center is a lifetime home for the entire UW family, whether they are future students, current students, alumni, donors or friends. It also embodies Marian’s vision of inspiring students to reach for their dreams.

Marian together with her daughter April also contributed $500,000 to commission the breathtaking D. Michael Thomas sculpture Breakin’ Through at the Gateway Center. The sculpture of a woman rider breaking through a wall of Wyoming sandstone epitomizes the vision of the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center and of Wyoming women in the Equality State. It also stands as a symbol of all that Marian represents.

Marian also supported many other things across the nation that she believed in so strongly—neurological research into dementia and Parkinson’s, national veterans groups and animal shelters, among other things.

UW is so very grateful for the great impact of Marian’s philanthropy. In 1990, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources awarded her the Outstanding Donor award; she received the UW President’s Cornerstone Award in 1999; and in 2000, she received the Athletics Hall of Fame Special Achievement Award.

“Marian was a beloved friend to me,” says Ben Blalock, president/CEO of the UW Foundation. “Her remarkable giving that has truly transformed Wyoming’s university provided me the privilege to work with Marian for two decades. Yet it is the joy of the friendship we shared that is my lifetime bond with Marian.”

Marian’s passion for giving has forever changed the University of Wyoming. Hundreds of millions in private giving and state of Wyoming matching support continue to come to UW as a result of Marian’s willingness to lead the way. The UW family is forever grateful to Marian H. Rochelle—a transformational leader with a commitment to make our world a better place through education.

“When I think about Marian, I think of that fabulous glint in her eye that represented her great spirit, her great mind and her great resolve to find solutions,” Mead says. “Marian’s life was a life well-lived, a life of giving, of caring and loving. Thank you for making Wyoming a better place.”

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