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The newly renamed public service and student training clinics of the UMKC School of Dentistry.

A gift that will keep on giving

School of Dentistry alumnus bequeaths multi-million dollar estate to help dental students

Dr. Robert Cowan graduated from the University of Kansas City (now UMKC) School of Dentistry in 1949. Over the course of the ensuing 60 years, along with his wife Lucille, Dr. Cowan has built a legacy of dedication to his profession and commitment to his community. Now, for countless numbers of future dental students, Dr. and Mrs. Cowan's legacy will include scholarships to help finance their education.

In what is one of the largest individual gifts ever made to a dental school in the United States, the Cowans have created a legacy estate gift provision, designating the UMKC School of Dentistry to receive this future gift. The Cowans have directed that their legacy gift, which is currently valued at $8.2 million, be used to establish an endowed scholarship fund to benefit UMKC students in good standing at the dental school.

"The University and the School of Dentistry are certainly humbled by the generosity of the Cowans," said UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton. "The Cowans' extraordinary gift of education and opportunity will provide immeasurable returns. We thank them for their unending dedication and support, and for selecting UMKC to continue their legacy."

The announcement of the gift was made by Chancellor Morton at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center on March 28, 2009, during the annual Alumni Recognition Breakfast at this year's Midwest Dental Conference.

Paying it forward

Dr. Cowan has first-hand knowledge of the financial challenges many students face and the importance of scholarships. As a dental student in the 1940s, Dr. Cowan held a part-time job in a tax office at 8th St. and Grand in downtown Kansas City to pay for his education. He remembers how supportive his instructors were, letting him leave class a half-hour early so he could get to work on time. Dr. Cowan says he has never forgotten that and all the other acts of compassion and understanding that helped him complete his education.

After graduating from the School of Dentistry in 1949, Dr. Cowan left for Oklahoma to take the dental board exam, with the intent of establishing his practice there. He proudly recalls one of the examiners telling him they could always spot UKC dentistry graduates because of their exceptional clinical skills.

A couple of years later, however, Dr. Cowan was back in Missouri where he decided to purchase a dental practice in Branson for $1,500. He and Mrs. Cowan have spent the last 58 years establishing themselves in the community and developing that practice into the successful operation it is today.

"Dr. and Mrs. Cowan have been active partners in the dental profession throughout Dr. Cowan's career," said Dr. Nancy Mills, interim dean of the UMKC School of Dentistry. "They hope this gift will inspire others to give to the school, and also hope students who receive the Cowan Scholarship will try to help at least one other student as soon as they are financially able to do so."

The Cowans' gift will double the size of the School of Dentistry's Rinehart Foundation and will also double the amount of student scholarships at the school. In recognition of this significant gift to generations of future students, the UMKC School of Dentistry will name its public service and student training clinics (the entire first floor of the UMKC School of Dentistry), The Dr. Robert and Mrs. Lucille Cowan Center for Clinical Care.

In what those who know him would call his typical humble and understated fashion, Dr. Cowan remarked, "Dentistry has been good to us, and I’d like to think that we have been good to dentistry."

Posted: March 30, 2009

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"The Cowan's hope this gift will inspire others to give to the school, and also hope students who receive the Cowan Scholarship will try to help at least one other student as soon as they are financially able to do so.”

Dr. Nancy Mills, interim dean of the UMKC School of Dentistry

Dr. and Mrs. Cowan