Oct. 4, 2010
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Mary Lee Nagle Duda continues to make University of Iowa fans cheer, years after she last set down the black-and-gold pom poms in 1961.
The UI Foundation has received a gift of $1.5 million from the Mary Lee and Fritz Duda family to establish the Mary Lee Hawkeye Spirit Fund to assist the University in maintaining its tradition of encouraging student, alumni, and public support of the school’s intercollegiate athletic programs.
“You have to understand that while Mary Lee was a cheerleader during her time at the University of Iowa, she has also been a cheerleader for Iowa in her private life,” Fritz Duda said. “She has always been loyal to Iowa City and the University and this is a fun way for our family to honor her and to enhance and preserve the Hawkeye spirit.”
The gift is believed to be the largest of its kind for a spirit program. At the UI, it will be used for the cheerleading squad, dance line, mascot programs, and other spirit support groups, including scholarships.
“This is an amazing gift to the program and it will help us in numerous ways in the future,” says Gregg Niemiec, UI spirit coordinator and cheerleading coach. “This is remarkable dedication to our spirit squads and it will keep us going into the future.”
A key component of the fund will be dedicated to student aid or other recognition to members of the spirit squad selected by the UI athletics department. The balance of the fund will be used to support the activities of the programs necessary for the University to maintain high standards in all aspects of cheerleading, dance, mascot, and related spirit activities, such as attending camps or purchasing uniforms.
“You have to understand that while Mary Lee was a cheerleader during her time at the University of Iowa, she has also been a cheerleader for Iowa in her private life. She has always been loyal to Iowa City and the University and this is a fun way for our family to honor her and to enhance and preserve the Hawkeye spirit.”
“Most people know that Hawkeye athletics are self-sustaining,” says Gary Barta, UI director of athletics. “Amazing gifts like the one from the Duda family make this possible. Our sincere thanks go out to Fritz and Mary Lee and their family.”
“The Duda family wanted to do something significant, not only to honor Mary Lee, but to also recognize her love and passion for the University of Iowa and Iowa City, her hometown,” says Mark Jennings, UI associate athletic director for donor & patron services. “This endowment is a meaningful, generous gift that will assist many students in years to come. We thank the Duda family for this wonderful support.”
Mary Lee was born and raised in Iowa City where her family held interests in lumber and banking. The death of her father, Leland Nagle, during her freshman year at City High School left the four Nagle sisters at home with their mother, Grace. Mary Lee excelled in sports at St. Mary’s Elementary and City High schools before following her sisters to the University of Colorado. Mary Lee transferred to the University of Iowa, where the vibrancy and enthusiasm that helped her become City High Homecoming Queen made her a great fit on the Hawkeye cheerleading squad.
After graduating from Iowa in 1961, Mary Lee joined Continental Airlines. She met Fritz, then a law student at the University of California. Starting their family in California, the family enjoyed trips back to Iowa City, where it all started for them with their wedding at St. Mary’s. For the first 17 years of marriage, the Duda family returned to Iowa City for Thanksgiving on McLean Street. The family tries to return for at least one football game a year.
Mary Lee raised six children, always dedicating herself to helping them achieve their educational goals. After the family moved to Dallas, the three Duda girls graduated from Ursuline Academy and the boys graduated from Jesuit College Preparatory School. Leigh Ann is a graduate of Purdue University, Lendy graduated from the University of San Diego, and Fritz, Jr., holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and a law degree from Duke University. Jim, a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, also holds an M.B.A. degree from Duke. Michael graduated in architecture from Notre Dame and is now an M.B.A. candidate at SMU. Lindsey is a graduate of Northwestern. Mary Lee and Fritz have 11 grandchildren and Mary Lee continues to lobby for a Hawkeye in the future.
“Mary Lee has probably been as loyal a Hawkeye fan as you can imagine,” Fritz said. “The first thing she wants to know when she reads the paper in the morning is if Iowa is going to be on television. She gets very excited about the Hawkeyes and exemplifies that loyalty and spirit.”
Mary Lee has been an active participant in many aspects of community service for several years. She currently serves on the Board of the Alliance for Catholic Education and is a member of the Irish Studies Council at the University of Notre Dame where Fritz serves as trustee.
The Duda children express great pride in honoring their mother in this fashion. Speaking for the family, Leigh Ann, the oldest daughter, said “you have to live with Mom to understand her Hawkeye spirit and loyalty. Her values and reverence for the University and her hometown of Iowa City have been a positive influence for all of us. We are so excited to be with her on this special occasion.”