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Joy Burns’ Estate Gift Extends Her Legacy of Supporting Students

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Sarah Satterwhite

Senior Editor, Strategic Content and Storytelling

Announcement  •
Joy Burns

When the University of Denver most needed steady and strategic leadership, Joy Burns provided it.

When DU needed an indefatigable champion, Joy Burns was there.

And now, thanks to a generous estate gift, Joy Burns will be there for DU in perpetuity.

Following her passing in 2020, the University has received an estate gift that will strengthen the multiple priorities across campus for which she advocated during her decades of leadership here. The wide-ranging impact of this gift will build on the already enduring legacy of Frank and Joy Burns at DU.

“The University of Denver owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Joy,” says Chancellor Jeremy Haefner. “Her impact on this institution is both significant and deeply meaningful, and this estate gift builds on an already well-established and astonishing legacy of vision and support. The University was fortunate to have such a committed and passionate partner in Joy Burns.”

A two-time chair of DU’s Board of Trustees, Burns was known not just for her business acumen and focused leadership, but also for unflagging support of students and student-athletes, particularly women student-athletes. This endowed gift will advance many of the programs and initiatives that were close to her heart. An accomplished sportswoman, she was a passionate advocate of Pioneer athletics and was instrumental in bringing DU into Division I. Her visionary generosity will enhance women’s gymnastics at DU, as well as the Joy Burns Arena, where many of our student-athletes compete. It will also strengthen the CWC Leadership Scholars Program, giving women the opportunity to pursue their educational and career leadership goals.

“Joy’s tireless support and advocacy for the division of athletics and recreation, and women student-athletes specifically, has left an indelible mark on our programs,” says Karlton Creech, vice chancellor for athletics, recreation and Ritchie Center operations. “The impact of this new endowment will have a remarkable effect upon future generations of women student-athletes and our entire division. We are thrilled to be able to honor and celebrate her legacy forever as one of the true Pioneers of women’s athletics in the country.”

She and her husband, DU alumnus Franklin Burns, established the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at DU in 1997. This gift will build on the school’s success, enhancing the reputation, program and activities of the Burns School. Also within the Daniels College of Business, the gift will strengthen the Knoebel School of Hospitality Management. 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.

“We, at Daniels, are particularly fortunate to be recipients of Joy’s incredible generosity,” says Daniels Dean Vivek Choudhury. “We remain eternally grateful for her contributions. There isn’t a student, faculty or staff member at Fritz Knoebel or the Burns School who hasn’t benefited from her gifts, and now those benefits will be further enhanced.”

“Joy Burns’ monumental generosity, both during her lifetime and now extending far into the future, is transformational for our university,” said Valerie Otten, senior vice chancellor for Advancement. “She loved the students of DU, and this gift carries forward her enduring commitment to help them succeed.”

Burns was the first woman to chair the University’s Board of Trustees. Working alongside DU’s 16th chancellor, Daniel Ritchie, she helped the University prepare for the challenges of the 21st century. Today, students and alumni associate her name with many of the programs and initiatives at the heart of the DU experience.

Burns joined the Board of Trustees in 1981 and upon her retirement was one of the longest-serving trustees in University history. As board chair from 1990–2005 and 2007–2009, she saw the University through some of its biggest financial challenges and historic triumphs. During her time in leadership, she and Ritchie oversaw significant innovations in academics, a rejuvenation of the physical campus, and the launch of one of the most successful capital campaigns in DU history.

Following her second time serving as board chair, the University granted her an honorary Doctor of Higher Education in recognition of her remarkable service. In 2018 the University presented her with the Founders Medal, its highest honor acknowledging her transformative leadership and engaged philanthropy.

Locations across campus bear her name and stand in honor of her unparalleled generosity: the building housing the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, a plaza in the Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts and the community ice arena at the Ritchie Center for Sports & Wellness.