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Published February 13, 2019
Lois Mottonen, a pioneer in the field of accounting and a lifelong advocate for women, left a significant estate gift of more than $5 million to the University of Wyoming. Her generosity will support the UW College of Business through a new Student Success Center and scholarships, as well as the university’s American Heritage Center.
“I am so grateful to Lois Mottonen for the forethought and kindness of this amazing gift,” says UW President Laurie Nichols. “One of Wyoming’s own, Lois truly was an exceptional woman who excelled in the field of accounting and helped countless women along the way. Her gift will transform the College of Business, its Student Success Center and scholarships to business students. The University of Wyoming will be better able to support its students, thanks to her.”
“Lois’ gift to UW reflects her gratitude for the education and encouragement she received at UW, and her hope that future generations of women and men receive the same kind of education and encouragement to allow them to make their mark in the world,” says Dennis Cook, Mottonen’s attorney.
The new College of Business Student Success Center, to be located in the former Commerce and Industry Building, will be supported by the $2.5 million Lois C. Mottonen Student Success Center Endowment in Business.
The new center will promote a meaningful student experience at the College of Business, followed by an inspiring career after graduation. The center will include enrollment management, student recruiting, scholarships, academic advising, study-abroad advising, professional development and engagement, internships and the Peter M. and Paula Green Johnson Career Center. It is slated to open in the 2019-2020 academic year.
The Mottonen endowment supports the student-centric vision and mission of the center through student learning opportunities, internships, student ambassadors, peer mentors and programmatic support.
“It is a fitting time to recognize Lois’ gift, as this year marks the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming,” says David Sprott, dean of the College of Business. “I am overcome with gratitude when I think about the countless students her gift will touch. It is truly remarkable what she has given to the University of Wyoming and the impact it will have for generations to come.”
The Lois Mottonen Business Scholarship will be supported by $2.5 million from Mottonen’s estate. The scholarship will fund undergraduates in the College of Business with financial need.
A portion of her estate also goes to the Lois Mottonen American Heritage Center (AHC) Fund to support the activities of the AHC, including the Kirk Knox Collection and the Lois C. Mottonen Collection.
Mottonen lived her entire life in Wyoming, growing up in Rock Springs and then coming to UW to pursue accounting. She was the only woman in her class, and she graduated with honors in 1951. She went on to attend the University of Virginia Graduate School of Public Affairs and Public Administration, supported by a fellowship from the Ford Foundation.
Mottonen was the second woman in Wyoming to be granted a certified public accountant (CPA) license but, after graduation, she couldn’t find a job in accounting, as CPA firms did not hire women at that time. College of Business Dean Clare Mundell and Department of Accounting Chair W.E. Daniels advised her to apply to the U.S. Treasury Department. She worked as an Internal Revenue Service agent from 1951-1979 and was nominated for the department’s Women’s Award for promoting women’s equality in government.
Also during that time, she appeared on the game show “What’s My Line?” -- season 12, episode 31 -- where contestants had to ask her questions and guess her job as a U.S. income tax collector.
After working for the Treasury Department, she worked for the Wyoming Department of Education in a position supported by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act that promoted gender equity in school districts and community colleges. She also served as communications coordinator for the Wyoming chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, for which she was honored with an award, and managed programs for the State Employees Retirement Group.
In 1976, Mottonen was invited by Good Housekeeping magazine as one of 200 women leaders from across the country to an event themed “Women in Passage” and titled “Who Should Speak for American Women in the Era of Change?” In 1995, in appreciation for her work in equal opportunity for women, Mottonen was invited to tea with President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton as part of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor’s 75th anniversary.
“The aim was not to tear down the situation of men, but to raise women to a more equal partnership with men,” Mottonen wrote. “Stress was on greater freedom of choice for women in planning their lives and on equality of opportunity, compensation and responsibility.”
Mottonen was the first woman in government to be elected president of the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants, and she served as president of the Laramie County Historical Society. She was a UW Outstanding Alumna and served on the UW College of Business (then Commerce and Industry) Advisory Board. She also played tennis for 40 years and won tournaments in the sport.
Mottonen’s support of UW began in 1963, and she supported her alma mater every decade since, including scholarships, the College of Business, Wyoming Public Radio, the AHC, Associated Students of UW and UW Libraries. She passed away in 2017.