DU donor sees return on investment at TEDxDU
August 19, 2011
By: Doug McPherson 

news-donor-newkirk-alum-bi.jpgJohn Newkirk, Jack Newkirk and Jeff Bi reunited at TEDxDU in May. Jack Nerkirk, a former DU professor, helped bring Bi to the University as a student. John Newkirk recently published The Old Man and the Harley about his father's motorcycle trip across the United States before World War II.

When Jeff Bi (MA ’90), the CEO of a highly successful packaging company, spoke at TEDxDU on May 13, one person in the crowd was particularly proud: Jack Newkirk, a University of Denver donor and former chemical engineering professor.

Turns out, Bi would likely not have been on that stage had it not been for Newkirk and his wife, Carol.

The Newkirks met Bi while they were traveling in Beijing and became fast friends. The Newkirks then offered him a sponsorship to attend DU for a master’s degree.

“We took a chance on how well he’d take to graduate studies in English” says Jack. “But when his first report card showed no grade below a B, we knew he was an outstanding student. He kept up that level of scholarship to the completion of his DU career.”

It indeed turned out to be a good investment. Bi graduated, returned to China and built a company that now ranks as the second largest supplier of environmentally friendly packaging material in the world and employs hundreds of people in China, Europe and North and South America.

Bi says he owes much of his success to DU and the Newkirks.

“The Newkirks are like a family to me now,” Bi says. “In the early years of my education and career, being able to come to the U.S. and DU for my education was a great boost. Most of the knowledge and skills I learned at DU are very practical. Even today I still can remember or even quote from time to time the professors.” Bi also became an American citizen during his time in the United States.

Jack Newkirk says “it’s been very satisfying to follow Bi’s career. He has far surpassed the level of success we thought he might reach. And, he treats us like his parents.”

It’s a story that illustrates the powerful consequences of generosity. And Jack Newkirk, at age 91, knows generosity. He’s been a DU donor since 1987.

Jack Newkirk began teaching at DU in 1965 and retired as a distinguished professor emeritus in 1985.

“The part of my life at DU I enjoyed most was my interaction with the students,” he says. “I have had the pleasure and satisfaction of staying in contact with several of them, and we’ve had a few reunions at our property near Evergreen [Colo.].”

The Newkirk’s regard for DU extends to his three children: John (attd.’79–81), Christina (BA ’90) and Victoria (BA ’85), all went to DU. And the tradition continues: Victoria’s son, Christopher David Newkirk Lierheimer, is currently a freshman studying mechanical engineering.

Son John Newkirk attended DU for two years to study pre-engineering, but says at the time he didn’t understand why DU’s core curriculum required him to take so many writing and communications courses.

“I was going to be an engineer after all. What use would Creative Writing 101 be to me?” he recalls with chagrin.

Little did he know that 25 years later he’d have a book contract with one of the world’s largest publishers — Thomas Nelson, Inc., of Nashville, Tenn. — on a subject that had nothing to do with technology and everything to do with effective communication. His book, The Old Man and the Harley, was published in 2008 and retraces a motorcycle journey his father took in 1939 to see World Fairs in New York and San Francisco just before the outbreak of World War II.

Today, John Newkirk says he’s “profoundly grateful for the enrichment” DU brought to his life, both personally and professionally.

John and Jack Newkirk have gone on to create their own nonprofit. John Newkirk explains that he and his dad formed a company that developed and brought to international distribution several surgically implantable devices and an electronic scalpel that simultaneously precision-cuts and cauterizes tissue.

“It was a lot of fun to combine dad’s knowledge of metals and my area of study and put it to practical use,” John Newkirk says.

For those contributions they were awarded a Colorado Governor’s citation for distinguished service to Colorado.

They sold the business to a major medical company in 2000 and used a portion of the proceeds to start the Snow Valley Foundation, a nonprofit that supports various community causes.

Today, Jack Newkirk says when he’s not tending to Carol, who’s had two back operations, he keeps busy with his hobbies of beekeeping, gardening, household and outside maintenance, church, Kiwanis and the doings of his three children and nine grandchildren.

As for supporting DU, Jack Newkirk says he’s proud to do it.

“I appreciate the positive direction it gave our family,” he says.

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