Gerdin Charitable Foundation’s $1 million gift establishes UNI Gerontology Chair

Gerdin Charitable Foundation’s $1 million gift establishes UNI Gerontology Chair

Gerdin family with President Nook

NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa – A transformative gift from the Gerdin Charitable Foundation will significantly enhance the University of Northern Iowa’s ability to train the next generation of elder care professionals working in the field of gerontology.

The North Liberty-based Gerdin Charitable Foundation has pledged a $1 million endowed gift that will expand faculty teaching, research and outreach for UNI’s growing gerontology program. In honor of the investment, UNI will establish the Gerdin Family Chair in Gerontology. 

“We’re grateful to the Gerdin Charitable Foundation for their philanthropic leadership and enduring commitment to programs at UNI that serve the broader community and state,” said UNI President Mark Nook. “The Gerdin Family Chair in Gerontology will provide our faculty in the gerontology program with resources to enhance educational opportunities for students and expand their outreach to professionals and caregivers throughout Iowa.”

“We as a family feel strongly about taking care of our elderly population and recognize that there will be a severe shortage of knowledge, training and workers in this field in the coming years,” said Julie Durr, a 1994 UNI graduate and member of the Gerdin family. “We only hope that this gift will make a large impact at UNI and for the program.”

The Gerdin Charitable Foundation is directed by the family of the late Russell Gerdin. Gerdin founded Heartland Express in 1978 and grew the company into a nationwide leader in logistics and transportation. During his lifetime, Russell, and his wife, Ann, were among Iowa’s leading philanthropists, and that legacy continues today through the work of the foundation. 

The Gerdin family has a long history of philanthropic support with UNI, leading the effort to renovate the Schindler Education Center in 2017. The foundation has also generously supported student scholarships and aided in the creation of the Jacobson Human Performance Complex. 

“This generous gift will further strengthen our gerontology program and elevate our work to the next level,” said Brenda Bass, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “The Gerdin Family Chair will allow us to recruit and retain leading faculty in the gerontology field, and provide funding for faculty and staff to expand their research and outreach in a field that is critical to Iowa’s future.” 

The state of Iowa, and the nation, is facing an extreme shortage of caregivers to provide for a growing aging population. The entire Baby Boomer generation – those born between 1946 and 1964 – will be over the age of 65 by 2030 and will account for 1 in 5 Americans. The aging revolution is creating a critical need for professionals with a deep understanding of the needs, challenges and complexities of the aging process. The demand for elder care is fueled in part by an expected rise in the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease.

UNI has been at the forefront of addressing the elder care workforce crisis as home to Iowa’s sole undergraduate gerontology program since 2006. UNI also offers the nation’s only dementia simulation house training experience. Since opening its doors in spring 2022, the UNI dementia simulation house has provided more than 1,800 students, faculty, staff, professionals and caregivers the chance to experience what it’s like to live with dementia. The dementia simulation house also provides participants the opportunity to learn strategies for supporting family, friends and community members living with dementia. 

The UNI gerontology program prepares students to obtain state licensure in nursing home administration and provides broad training for careers in corporate, government and non-profit agency environments. Graduates of UNI’s gerontology program work in a variety of roles  in the field of aging, including nursing home administrators, dementia specialists, case managers, nonprofit leaders, and more.

The Gerdin Family Foundation’s gift was made through the UNI Foundation as a part of the Our Tomorrow campaign.