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Founders Celebration Honors Longstanding Leaders of DU

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Sarah Satterwhite

Senior Editor, Strategic Content and Storytelling

News  •
Founders Celebration 2022

At the Founders Celebration on Wednesday, March 2, the University of Denver celebrated several of our most recent founders whose involvement has contributed significantly to DU’s success. Chancellor Jeremy Haefner presented the Founders Medal, one of the highest honors bestowed by the University of Denver, to honorees in recognition of their transformative leadership and philanthropy in advancing DU’s mission and values. 

Joseph W. Saunders (BSBA ’67, MBA ’68, PhD ’09, Trustee 2014-2017) and Sharon Saunders received the Founders Medal in recognition of their ongoing commitment to student success. The Saunders family has long supported the University, initially investing in a global education fund at Daniels College of Business. In 2018 they established the Saunders Leadership Academy at DU, providing funding for need-based scholarships and programming support for undergraduate students. When they made the gift to establish the academy, it was the largest endowed gift in support of scholarships in the University’s history. The first cohort of students involved in the Saunders Leadership Academy, known as Denver Promise Scholars, will graduate from DU in May 2022. 

The Saunders family’s longstanding passion for helping students succeed through scholarships and mentoring can be seen in their support of multiple educational organizations beyond DU, including Teach for America. 

The Boettcher Foundation is the inaugural foundation to receive the Founders Medal this year, recognizing its deep and longstanding partnership with DU. The Boettcher Foundation has supported DU for more than 80 years, contributing to scholarships, broad infrastructure support and campus programs.  

The Boettcher Foundation’s scholarship program has focused for more than 70 years on keeping the best and brightest students here in Colorado. DU’s partnership in that effort has resulted in many former Boettcher scholars returning to DU as employees and continuing to support the university as engaged alumni during their successful careers. DU is a top-five all-time recipient of Boettcher Foundation philanthropic support, receiving more than $50 million in scholarship and grant support over the years.  

This year’s Founders Celebration also honored the life and legacy of Joy Burns, a dedicated champion of DU’s students who was our first female chair of the Board of Trustees. During her many years of leadership here, she was known for her outstanding business acumen and focused leadership. Her unflagging support of students and student-athletes, particularly women student-athletes, was another hallmark of her leadership at the University. 

She and her husband, DU alumnus Franklin Burns, established the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at DU in 1997. Upon Joy’s passing in 2021, DU received a gift from her estate that builds on the school’s success, enhancing the reputation, program and activities of the Burns School. Her estate gift also strengthens the Knoebel School of Hospitality Management within Daniels College of Business. The Burns’ legacy of visionary generosity will have a distinct impact on countless students throughout Daniels College of Business and the University for years to come, and the University was honored to include Joy Burns in this year’s Founders Celebration.