Retired Professor Funds Endowment to Honor Former Student’s Legacy

Dr. Gary Kuhnhenn (left), Rick Schroder (left) and son Omar (center)

“It’s not about me,” said Dr. Gary Kuhnhenn, ’72, retired EKU geology professor, department chair and dean, about his decision to fund the Rick Schroder Student Assist Fund. “It’s about Rick.”

Rick Schroder, ’87, was a geology master’s student when Kuhnhenn was the chair of the department. While at EKU, Schroder got to know fellow graduate students, undergraduate students and faculty – not just in the geology department, but from other areas of campus. “Schroder was known by everyone, and was somebody who helped anybody and everyone,” said Kuhnhenn. 

He was the type of person who “left an impression,” Kuhnhenn continued. It’s a sentiment shared by many. When Schroder unexpectedly passed away in 2020, John Tillson, ’84 ’86, – who was an undergraduate when Schroder was a graduate student – immediately went to work to get the people who had known Schroder involved in establishing something in his memory at EKU. 

“Rick was everywhere in the department,” Tillson said. “If you had questions about a class, Rick would sit down and help you out and explain things. He was just a really, really good human being.”

Upon hearing of Schroder’s passing, Tillson got in contact with geology alumni to raise funds in honor of Schroder’s legacy and rebuild the geology alumni network. Kuhnhenn became part of the initiative, and soon thereafter, decided to make a gift of $25,000 to fund the endowment. Tillson and others have also contributed to further build the endowment fund. 

Just as Schroder helped many students during his time at EKU and throughout his life, the Rick Schroder Student Assist Fund will help out EKU geology students in need. 

“Rick had the habit of helping a lot of people,” Kuhnhenn said. “So I wanted it to be a fund that helps students with their backs against the wall financially, at a time when they may need some money to get around the obstacle.” 

As a professor, Kuhnhenn has known students who never completed their degrees because they were faced with financial barriers. The Rick Schroder Student Assist Fund hopes to alleviate these issues and help more students make it to graduation. The fund provides awards to geology or other physical science students who need financial help with educational expenses, such as registration fees for certification or professional exams, GRE registration, university fees, books, conferences, field camp and travel. Personal expenses may also be considered. 

“It may be just a few hundred dollars, but if you don't have the money as a student, a few hundred dollars is a big deal,” Kuhnhenn said. 

Both Kuhnhenn and Tillson shared the story of how Schroder would visit campus as an alumnus and stop by the copy center. It was a place where students could make photocopies for their schoolwork, and the charge for the copies would be billed to the student’s account. Schroder would inquire if any geology students had balances on their printing accounts, and he would pay those balances. 

“That was Rick,” Kuhnhenn said. “He never made a big deal out of that, he’d just do these things.” Now, with an endowment established for the Rick Schroder Student Assist Fund, Kuhnhenn has ensured Schroder’s legacy of assisting others continues for future generations.

Kuhnhenn is also an EKU master’s alumnus, being part of the first geology master’s graduating class at EKU. With serendipity in his favor, as he said, Kuhnhenn returned to EKU as a geology professor in 1979. From there, he enjoyed a fulfilling career at EKU, making significant contributions in academics and administration. He retired in 2012 but continues to teach geology as part-time faculty. 

During Kunhenn’s tenure, he team taught field geology one summer with Schroder. Although Shcroder was a graduate student, Kuhnhenn said they were equal partners in teaching field camp. Decades later, the impression Schroder left on Kuhnhenn inspired him to give back, honoring a student’s memory and creating a lasting legacy for Rick Schroder.  

“In the 50-year history of the geology department, no student has ever triggered this type of response,” Tillson said. “That’s the kind of impact Rick had on that department over not just a couple of years, but a couple of decades.”