Richard Kunze and his sons support scholarships to honor their family's late matriarch
By Jacob Longan
In 53 years as a season-ticket holder for OSU football, Richard Kunze has missed only two home games.
In 1996, he was proudly watching his son Jay receive an American FFA Degree, an honor given to fewer than 1 percent of FFA members that signifies the highest level of commitment to the FFA and significant accomplishments.
And in October 1993, his wife, Lawana (Mills) Kunze, had a biopsy on a brain tumor. That was the first step in her battle with cancer, which lasted nearly a quarter-century before she died August 29, 2017, 27 days after her 68th birthday.
“She was 43 when she was diagnosed, and they basically gave her four to six months to live,” says Richard, a Shawnee, Oklahoma, native who completed a 1969 agricultural economics degree and a 1971 MBA. “We went through radiation, chemotherapy and finally brain surgery.
Jay said he spent a lot of time with his mother as she battled the disease and her health deteriorated.
“Considering she was only supposed to live for a few months, it was great that we got all that extra time,” says Jay, a 2000 agricultural economics graduate. “Good times or bad times, they are still memories, and they were good memories for the most part. There really wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for you.”
Leaving a Legacy
That heart for service led to the creation of two OSU scholarships that will honor her memory in perpetuity. The Kunze Family Quarter Baseball Scholarship was created through a life-insurance policy Lawana purchased in the 1980s. With the addition of a recent pledge from Richard, the fund will be fully endowed at $125,000.
Josh Holliday is OSU’s head baseball coach and a former three-time All-Big 12 selection. He grew up at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, where his father, Tom, was first an assistant coach and then head coach from 1978, when Josh was 2, until 2003. He calls this scholarship a fitting tribute for Lawana, whom he knew as long as he can remember.
“There are fans, and there are supporters, and then there are truly passionate, genuine followers of what you do — supporters, believers, fans, encouragers,” Holliday says. “The Kunze family meets all criteria when it comes to their love for Oklahoma State. You see them in the stands, you hear them, and you see it in their actions, going the extra mile to follow your team and be there with you on the road in a lonely place.
“To also see it through financial support and endowing scholarships shows a rare love for the school and the belief in what you’re doing. You can’t beat having friends like that. It really is a relationship that extends way beyond the field.”
The life-insurance policy also added about $32,000 to the Lawana Kunze Scholarship, which supports graduate students in the educational administration program within the College of Education, Health and Aviation. Because Lawana wanted to see the impact of this fund immediately, it has been awarded since 2001 through the family’s outright gifts.
They met the recipients for years, and as travel — and life — became more difficult for Lawana, her days were brightened when she received a letter from a Kunze scholar.
“She had been a working mother going to school at the same time, so that was really important to her,” says Tim, Lawana’s other son and a 1991 agricultural economics alumnus. “She was always such a caring person and so involved with many different things — FFA, band, athletics.”
Trent Murner, a 2012 scholarship recipient, is the principal at West Middle School in Ponca City, Oklahoma.
“The scholarship obviously helped with the financial side of things, but bigger than that, it made me feel appreciated and encouraged me to work toward my higher degree,” Murner says. “It was an honor to receive that and I truly appreciate the generosity of the Kunze family.”
Lisa Seay, a 2016 recipient, is dean of instruction at ASTEC Charter Schools in Oklahoma City.
“I was fortunate enough to receive the Lawana Kunze scholarship at a time when I was a single mom struggling on a teacher’s salary,” Seay says. “Thanks to the generosity of the Kunze family, I have been able to move on to my current position, helping teachers like myself change lives. I am also nearing completion of my Ph.D., which includes research on Oklahoma’s teacher shortage. I am so grateful that the Kunze family believed in me.”
Growing, Learning and Loving
Lawana grew up on a dairy farm in Alex, Oklahoma, which taught her the value of hard work from an early age. She was salutatorian of Dibble High School and began studying music education at what is now the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, but withdrew to move to Oklahoma City. She worked at the Oklahoma County Court Clerk’s Office during the day and sang with Tommy Nelson’s band in the evening. She then went to work in the offices of the Wilson Foods Plant in the Oklahoma City Stockyards, where she met Richard. She was an assistant in one department while he was in the management development group in another.
“I spent as much time as I could at the pencil sharpener near her desk,” Richard says. “Two years later, we were married on September 26, 1975.”
Lawana had always liked children, so she decided to complete her elementary education degree at Oklahoma Baptist University.
“It took her 196 hours with transfers, but she stuck with it until she finished in 1984,” Richard says. “Then she didn’t want to be the only one in the family who didn’t get a degree from OSU, so while teaching, she went to school at night and in the summers until she finished her master’s in educational administration in 1988.”
She began her dream job as a Title I grant application writer at the Oklahoma State Department of Education in 1990, but her career was cut short by cancer treatments in 1994. The first thing she did after leaving the position was to fulfill a promise to her mother-in-law by taking the family on a trip to their ancestral homeland of Ireland.
It was a special trip for a family that had traveled to so many events closer to home to cheer for the Cowboys.
The Kunzes are longtime season-ticket holders in men’s basketball and wrestling along with baseball and football.
“She was as big an OSU fan as I was,” Richard says. “If there was a sporting event, we felt like we needed to go. If they were selling season tickets, we felt like we needed to buy them. Everybody knew that Lawana’s primary job at athletic events was to keep me under control.”
She might not be around to calm Richard down at games anymore, but her memory will live on through her friends and loved ones, as well as the scholarships that bear her name.
Whether created through an estate plan, pledge, outright gift or other vehicle, an endowed scholarship can provide a powerful way to leave a legacy or honor a loved one. For more information about how you can create an endowed scholarship or other fund benefiting OSU, contact the OSU Foundation Office of Gift Planning at 800-622-4678 or giftplanning@OSUgiving.com