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The UA community paid tribute to the first alumnus president of the University of Arizona, Henry Koffler

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Madeleine Viceconte | The Daily Wildcat John Milbauer, a professor at the school of music, plays a classical piece on the piano, as part of the Henry Koffler Tribute on Nov. 19 in Crowder Hall. Koffler is the only alumnus president and he expanded many programs in the school during his 9 years.

On the evening of Monday, Nov. 19, staff, family, friends and admirers gathered in Crowder Hall to honor Henry Koffler. Koffler, former president of the University of Arizona, died in March of this year at the age of 95. 

John P. Schaefer, George Davis and Kathleen Kennedy spoke at the ceremony, commemorating his achievements, telling his life story and sharing fond memories of the former president. 

Current University President, Dr. Robert Robbins, welcomed everyone who came and spoke about Henry Koffler and the impact he made in the Wildcat community. 

           RELATED: From student to president: how a UA alum touched the lives of many

A new tradition began that night, as Robbins announced that from now on, when a university president dies, the U.S.S. Arizona bell, located in the Memorial Student Union, will be rung once for each year they served as president. At the close of the ceremony, guests watched a live stream of the bell as it was rung nine times for the nine years of Koffler’s presidency.

George Davis, a regents’ professor emeritus and one of the speakers at the event, was on the planning committee for the ceremony. They decided they had to ring the bell to honor Koffler. Davis said that the bell is rung only on special occasions, and the school and event committee said they felt there was no better way to commemorate Koffler.

“It takes a momentous, serious, important event … Henry Koffler is the first alumnus president of the University of Arizona. We need to ring the bell,” Davis said.

The service also featured music and dance, as Koffler was a supporter of the arts. The UA Graduate String Quartet, the Arizona Symphony Orchestra, UA Prof. John Milbauer on the piano and four UA Dance Ensemble members all performed throughout the evening. 

Chris Sigurdson, one of the event committee members, said planning for this event began “before Koffler had even passed.”

According to Sigurdson, Davis went to former UA President Ann W. Hart when she was still the university president to begin planning the ceremony for Koffler’s passing. They wanted to plan something special for Koffler, so they met with him to hear what he and his wife, Phyllis Koffler, wanted.

“We talked to Henry enough to know that, you know, he wanted it to be not just a memory of his CV, but also who he was, his belief system and of course his appreciation for arts and culture and dance,” Sigurdson said. 

Kathleen Kennedy, a former technical writer and editor who retired last year from CyVerse, part of UA's BIO5, as well as a family friend who had known Koffler for 18 years, spoke during the ceremony. She spoke on Koffler’s fascination with the arts and his involvement in the creation of the Arizona Senior Academy and Academy Village, where retired people could still follow their interests and continue learning and growing. 

When asked about the impact Koffler left behind, being the first and only University of Arizona graduate to become president, Kennedy said that he was never one to look back on the past. He wanted to look forward and see how he could make things better.

“He hit the ground running and figured out what needed to be done and got it done,” Kennedy said. 

Davis, in his speech during the event, talked about the three core beliefs that Koffler held: devotion to land-grant public universities, commitment to exceptional human talent and the need to grasp fleeting opportunities.

 He discovered those beliefs through his position on Koffler’s administration and through conducting 50 hours of interviews with Koffler to learn about his life and his passions in preparation for this ceremony.

          Related: What is the role of an ex-UA president?

After the ceremony, guests moved from Crowder Hall to the front of the Fred Fox School of Music where tables, food and drinks were set up. Guests mingled and were able to discuss the ceremony as well as share their own stories about Koffler with one another.

Kennedy said she loved the new tradition of ringing the bell that began that evening. She said that over the past couple of years when they were working on this ceremony, they wanted something to be set that would continue for future presidents after they pass.

“There will be more, but there won’t be another Henry Koffler,” Kennedy said.


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