Local philanthropist, UNO supporter dies at 90

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By Jillian Whitney

Charles Durham, a civic leader and generous contributor to numerous organizations including UNO and UNMC, died Saturday at his home in Omaha.According to the Omaha World-Herald, Durham died of heart failure. He was 90 years old.

Durham was the chairman of Durham Resources. He was also the retired chairman and CEO of HDR, Inc.

Durham concentrated much of his financial contributions on Omaha and Nebraska.

He was one of the most generous supporters of the NU system, his contributions allowing substantial gains to be made in the areas of medical research, patient care and surgery. He also made a lasting impact in higher education, in particular information technology, architectural engineering and construction.

Durham was known as a straight shooter and a man with a heart for giving, said former UNO Chancellor Del Weber.

“Chuck Durham was a very bright man. He had a good sense of humor. He was a great citizen of the City of Omaha and a great philanthropist. He was a self made person. He was not born to wealth, but he achieved great wealth,” Weber said. “He used that wealth for the good of so many organizations in this city.”

Weber was the chancellor from 1977 to 1997, when several of Durham’s contributions were made.

Students should be familiar with Durham’s name, as several buildings, institutions and scholarships on campus bear his name.

In 1984, UNO announced a sizeable gift was given from Durham to support a new science facility on campus. Durham’s gift was the largest single contribution toward the project.

Construction of the science facility began in 1985; the building was named the Durham Science Center. In 1988, the Durhams presented UNO with another large gift in support of the Aviation Institute.

In that same year, Margre Durham presented to the UNO campus a 168-foot campanile. The campanile was named the Henningson Memorial Campanile in memory of her father, mother and sister.

In 2000, Durham gifted UNMC with what is believed to be the largest single donation ever received for the campus. Durham offered the campus financial support for the construction of a $77 million Research Center of Excellence. Two years after construction began, UNMC revealed the center would be called the Durham Research Center.

In 2004, the Durham Foundation announced a second major donation to the UNMC to be put towards construction of a second research tower to be connected to the original tower.

In 2005, UNO received another gift from Durham in order to establish the Charles W. Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction within the Peter Kiewit Institute.

Weber said Durham’s contributions to the UNO campus serve as a testament to his generosity and life.

“As far as UNO is concerned, he was really one of the lynchpins in the new UNO. Without him some of the things that are closely associated with UNO today would not be there,” Weber said.

Durham’s generosity didn’t stop within the educational realm. According to the Omaha World-Herald, Durham also contributed to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and was involved in the renovation of Union Station into Durham Western Heritage Museum. He was an active participant in the Joslyn Art Museum and served on its board. He was also a board chairman of the Mid-America Council of Boy Scouts of America.

“I think every city, and particularly a city like Omaha, looks to it’s philanthropist. They are so necessary for public and private partnerships, and he has left a very big hole in the fabric of Omaha. His legacy for this city will be lasting,” Weber said. “All you have to do is drive around the city and see the Durham name. He will be sorely missed, and his impact will show.”

His funeral was held Wednesday at the Countryside Community Church.

Durham is survived by his son, Steve Durham of Dallas; daughters Mary Helen “Sunny” Lundgren and Lynne Boyer, both of Omaha; Debby Durham of Fremont, Neb.; nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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