The University of Oklahoma Foundation is receiving a transformative gift from the estate of Earl and Fran Ziegler of Dallas, building further on a history of generous giving to the university reaching back some 25 years.
The Zieglers were alumni, longtime donors and avid supporters of OU. Fran Ziegler died of cancer in 2002 and over the next 18 years, Earl remained dedicated to sustaining their legacy. The couple had no children, and Earl entrusted the OU Foundation to carry out the couple’s wish to see their assets benefit students and several OU entities. Before his death in December 2020 at the age of 95, Earl Ziegler left nearly his entire estate, valued at more than $45 million, to the Ziegler Foundation with the directive that his charitable namesake be dissolved and its assets transferred to the OU Foundation.
“Through their extraordinary support and dedication, the Zieglers have left an indelible impact on the University of Oklahoma that will make a lasting difference for many future generations,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “This planned gift brings their cumulative giving to OU to more than $50 million, fortifying their legacy among the university’s most generous and beloved benefactors.”
Under Earl Ziegler’s directive, the holdings of the Ziegler Foundation will be divided among four entities. OU’s Fran and Earl Ziegler College of Nursing will receive more than $20 million to create additional endowed faculty positions, add substantially to endowed student support, as well as substantially increase flexible funding for a variety of strategic, high priority needs of the college.
Before her passing in 2002, Fran Ziegler’s love and respect for those in the nursing profession was strengthened during her illness. In recognition of their longstanding support, in 2015 the OU College of Nursing was named in honor of the Zieglers. “To see the quality of the bright, young people graduating from the OU nursing program renews our faith and hope for the future,” Earl Ziegler said about their decision to support nursing.
Throughout their lives, the Zieglers were faithful supporters of the College of Nursing, funding scholarships to distinguished visitors and speakers and providing two endowed positions – one that enabled the college to bring in experts in such areas as managed care, community nursing, nurse utilization, ethics, health care reform and health politics; and one that served as a catalyst for the Palliative Care Program.
Julie Hoff, Ph.D., MPH, R.N., dean of the OU Fran and Earl Ziegler College of Nursing, described this act of philanthropy as both humbling and gratifying.
“Nursing is widely regarded as the cornerstone of direct patient care and often, it’s the nurse at the bedside who defines the patient experience,” she said. “We are determined to be a worthy steward of this financial support, and the college reaffirms its commitment to provide superior nursing education for this and future generations of skilled nursing professionals. Our goals are ambitious and progressive, and we are deeply appreciative of this extraordinary expression of support from our college’s namesake.”
Stephenson Cancer Center will be a major beneficiary of the gift, receiving support for vital cancer research at the acclaimed clinic. OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center will receive a more than $13 million endowment for cancer research, establishing the Ziegler Oncology Research Institute. Stephenson Cancer Center Director Robert Mannel, M.D., said while donations of every type and size are important and valued, monetary gifts of this magnitude are particularly strategic.
“Philanthropic support is vital to the mission of Stephenson Cancer Center,” Mannel noted. “The generational impact is nearly incalculable, both in terms of scientific and translational research and patient care. It is difficult to express the depth of gratitude we feel for this level of support from the Zieglers, which they have deemed a fitting way to establish a humanitarian legacy. This enduring investment will compound itself in sustaining groundbreaking research, supporting excellence in medical education, and ultimately enhancing patient care and quality of life. Individuals who leverage their financial resources like this strengthen meaningful community and regional ties and mobilize the power of good for the long term.”
The remaining funds are designated for scholarships for all OU undergraduate students, both scholarships and fellowships in petroleum engineering, and an operational endowment for the Sam Noble Museum.
Fran Ziegler served on the Campaign Council to build the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, and she and Earl provided support for the museum’s construction and endowment.
“This legacy gift to the Sam Noble Museum is a gift of the ages to ages yet to come,” said Janet Braun, Sam Noble Museum interim director. “Such generous gifts are an investment in the future of the museum and its mission, ensuring that we continue to connect people to Oklahoma’s rich natural and cultural history through exhibitions, educational and public programs, community outreach, research, exploration, and preservation and stewardship of the collections that we hold in trust for the people of Oklahoma. The impact of the Ziegler estate gift extends far into the future – permitting us to reach across the dark curtain of time and touch current and future generations.”
In past giving, the Zieglers also demonstrated their appreciation of OU and love for Southwestern art through their donations of two bronze sculptures: the Allan Houser sculpture Homeward Bound on the OU Norman campus, which depicts a Navajo woman with her sheep and dog crossing a bridge; and the Dreamcatcher sculpture by Star Liana York on the OU Health Sciences Center campus, which portrays an Apache woman holding a child and viewing a dreamcatcher. In addition to the cash gifts from the estate, there will also be several pieces of Southwestern art donated to the Foundation, including two additional Houser sculptures.
The endowed scholarships provided by the Ziegler estate gift come at a crucial time for OU students.
“Legacy scholarships provide students an opportunity to fulfill the dream of a college education,” said Brad Burnett, director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at OU. “Without assistance from outside sources, many students would not be able to afford the degree they desperately need to enter the workforce and become contributing members of society. We’re incredibly thankful to the Zieglers for their commitment to making OU’s excellence attainable for so many.”
Over the years, Earl Ziegler formed a special relationship with the University of Oklahoma Foundation, entrusting its leadership to carry out his estate wishes and protect the Zieglers’ legacy forever.
“Earl was an extraordinary person,” said Guy Patton, president and CEO of the University of Oklahoma Foundation. “It’s a humbling honor to know that he placed so much faith in us. Legacy gifts that enable endowments like these are powerful. They ensure that OU students and faculty have vital resources for all time, and they set a gracious and admirable example of purpose-filled generosity.”
Earl Ziegler was an Endowed OU President’s Associate who supported the Energy Center and the Alumni Scholars Program. Both contributed to petroleum engineering scholarships and Sooner Heritage Scholarships on the Norman campus. For their outstanding dedication to the university, both Fran and Earl were honored with OU Regents’ Alumni Awards in 1999.
Earl Ziegler earned his degree in petroleum engineering from OU, while Fran graduated from the OU College of Arts and Sciences. The Zieglers married in 1952. Earl began his career as a driller and worked his way up the ladder in a field that took the Zieglers from Montana to Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, New Mexico and Florida. He spent a year in southern Mexico as a drilling superintendent for Permesa, S.A., and was president of Exeter Drilling Southern from 1971 until his retirement in Dallas in 1986.
To learn more about the University of Oklahoma Foundation, visit www.oufoundation.org.
About the University of Oklahoma
Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. For more information visit www.ou.edu.