Pathway to success: Arthur and Mary Kochoff make largest gift in UM-Dearborn history

October 13, 2014

Arthur and Mary Kochoff make largest gift in UM-Dearborn history in support of student scholarships.

Arthur Kochoff
Arthur Kochoff
The Kochoff Pathway to Success Scholarship Program will support nearly 600 students with financial need in it first four years alone. Arthur Kochoff (pictured above) earned three undergraduate degrees from University of Michigan-Dearborn and received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the university.

Arthur Kochoff blended in among a group of students dressed in their caps and gowns.

It was 1996 and hundreds of University of Michigan-Dearborn students crowded inside the Fieldhouse to turn their tassels and receive their diplomas.

Kochoff was slated to receive bachelor’s degrees in Hispanic studies, international studies and art history.

There were, however, a few major distinctions between Kochoff and the other graduates.

Kochoff was 80 years old with nearly 50 years of engineering experience under his belt. Finding a job or repaying student loans were the least of his worries.

Kochoff returned to academia at the age of 75 because he believed education has the power to improve every aspect in life.

“Arthur personified the spirit of lifetime learning,” said UM-Dearborn Chancellor Daniel Little.

His legacy of learning dates back nearly a century. The son of Macedonians, Arthur grew up in Detroit and held several jobs as a youngster.

He ran two newspaper routes, cleaned the local butcher shop and drove an ice cream truck. His parents never asked him to get a job. He did so on his own accord.

Arthur met his wife, Mary, at the Vanity Ballroom in Detroit, a chance encounter that sparked a 67-year marriage and a decades-long bond with UM-Dearborn.

Kochoff passed away in February, two years after Mary died. Their legacy, however, is cemented at UM-Dearborn because of the couple’s generous support.

Their latest gift, a bequest estimated to be about $12.5 million, is the largest gift in university history. This magnificent gift will be endowed, so that its impact will continue and grow in perpetuity.

Over its first four years alone, the Kochoff Pathway to Success Scholarship Program will support nearly 600 students with financial need.

The gift will help UM-Dearborn recruit students from area community colleges by providing about 40 transfer students each year with $5,000 scholarships.

Another 225 students will receive an extra $1,000 added to their university-funded Opportunity Scholarship award, which will help UM-Dearborn retain these students who are at financial risk.

And in an effort to increase graduate enrollment, $50,000 from the Kochoff gift will annually support about 50 graduate students who struggle to stay afloat financially and often are lured away by other schools who offer more scholarship support.

“As remarkable as the Kochoffs’ philanthropy during their lives has been, their ultimate legacy is yet to be realized,” Little said. “The endowment will provide a life-changing education to a number of students over many generations, a fitting legacy to a couple who so dearly loved learning.”

Their legacy of learning is evident on their headstone, which reads “Lifelong Scholar.”

And their strong connection to UM-Dearborn will continue for years to come as their last name often is mentioned in casual conversations across campus. That’s because the preferred hub for UM-Dearborn events carries their name—Kochoff Hall.

“Their legacy is one of the first impressions students receive on campus and it’s one of the most lasting impressions they leave here with,” said Matt Myers, a junior studying criminal justice.

As president of the Student Activities Board, Myers spends a good chunk of his free time in Kochoff Hall.

“As far as Student Activities Board goes, the entire organization revolves around Kochoff Hall,” he said.

During the annual Spring Blowout event, the hall is outfitted with inflatables and videogames, so students can connect outside of the classroom. Students sample food, learn unique dances and celebrate inclusion as part of the Cultural Expo. And when renowned speakers like journalist Roland Martin and Dr. Patch Adams visit campus, they visit Kochoff Hall.

Their name also is synonymous among those who aspire to learn new languages. The couple helped establish the Kochoff Language Lab in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters (CASL) Building, where students can learn to read, write and speak Arabic, German and Spanish.

They already have a foothold on the second floor of the CASL Building and, as of June, the Kochoffs now have a strong presence on the first floor with the unveiling of the Mary Kochoff Auditorium.

The auditorium is a testament to Mary, who shared Arthur’s passion to learn new things.

As an alumnus and dean of the college, Martin Hershock (’85 B.A.) understands the indelible impact the Kochoffs have left on UM-Dearborn.

“This is a campus that transforms the lives of our students,” Hershock said. “The incredible support that Mary and Arthur have given will ensure that many future generations of students will have the same transformational experience.”

Cue Quinn Osgood. He was on the fence as to where to pursue an engineering degree. Finances factored into his decision, so when he received a scholarship established by the Kochoffs, the choice was easy.

“Though I never got the chance to meet the Kochoffs, their generous gifts to the university for student scholarships have really meant the world to me,” Osgood said. “It has given me the opportunity to pursue a degree in engineering and it is the main reason I chose to attend University of Michigan-Dearborn.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Legacy.

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