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Updated: Tech’s nursing program gets $7 million gift

Sherry and Dave Lesar have donated $7 million to Montana Tech’s nursing program, Chancellor Les Cook announced Monday morning.

It is the largest single gift ever received by Montana Technological University. Cook said that once requisite approvals are obtained, Tech will change the name of the nursing school to the Sherry Lesar School of Nursing.

The gift will dramatically augment the nursing program.

It will add faculty positions and scholarships. The school's simulation center, already mostly funded with the help of a previous gift from the Lesars, will gain at least two faculty positions, said Director of Nursing Karen VanDaveer.

Also, the simulation center will be named the Lesar Family Nursing Simulation Center.

Dave Lesar, now CEO of CenterPoint Energy, was CEO of Halliburton from 2000 to 2017.

"Nursing is not only a profession, it is a calling," his wife Sherry Lesar said. "Good nurses don't become good by accident. It takes hard work, good education, perseverance ... and a strong desire to help others."

"I love Montana," she said, "and Montanans deserve good health care."

The announcement was made at a packed Student Success Center. Guests included Montana University System Chancellor Clayton Christian, members of the Board of Regents and the Montana Tech Foundation board, a variety of local dignitaries — and a large gathering of cheering, smiling nursing students, easy to recognize in their trademark Oredigger green scrubs.

In brief remarks, Cook characterized the gift as a major step in Tech's path to achieving its strategic plans, including providing "a transformative student experience."

"Students are the reason we exist," he said. "Today with the investment of our friends, we are empowered to do more and do better" in achieving student success, providing programs of distinction and providing an environment in which students will thrive.

He said the gift will help Tech to "benefit humanity and meet the changing needs" of the state and the school's students.

Joe McClafferty, CEO of the Montana Tech Foundation, said, "This is emotional and personal to me. My mom was a nurse, my mother-in-law was a nurse, my aunts were nurses, my sisters are nurses, my daughter is a Physician's Assistant."

"We're really happy to do this," Dave Lesar said after the program concluded. "But Sherry is the one you should interview."

"This is such a great program," Sherry Lesar said. "It's our pleasure to do what we can to make it even better."

Earlier, she observed that "while neither Dave nor I attended Montana Tech, we have been welcomed here so warmly. We took an immediate liking to Tech because the school's philosophy, vision and student programs all resonate very deeply.

"Because we felt so at home, we were looking for ways to give back. We endowed a chair in honor of my father- and mother-in-law, Stan and Joyce Lesar. But not wanting to stop at endowing a chair, we asked ourselves, how can we help more? From that came funding for the simulation center, about to be finished.

"Montana Tech nursing students will have hands-on access to the latest technology.

"Now we'd  like to help the nursing school reach yet another level. The greater amount of students who stay here in Montana to study nursing, the better. And we expect to attract more and more out-of-state students as well. When that happens it will put Montana Tech nursing on the map, as  it should be."

"At some point in our lives," Sherry Lesar said, "We all are cared for by nurses.  They are with us on the happiest day of our lives, when a new child arrives, and they are with us on our worst possible, perhaps final, day. They provide us comfort, and they project calm and confidence no matter what the medical emergency may be."

She concluded, "We look forward to this school of nursing being sustainable. It's a great honor and pleasure to help that vision become reality."

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