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Scholarship Announced in Honor of “First Five” to Integrate Duke

Scholarship Announced in Honor of “First Five” to Integrate Duke

The $1 million scholarship will support Duke's enduring commitment to the benefits of diversity

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Gene Kendall, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, and Nathaniel "Nat" White, Jr. are the three surviving members of the first five undergraduate students to integrate Duke in 1963. Photo by Les Todd.

Duke commemorates the 50th anniversary of student integration and the legacy of the firsts

Durham, NC - Last weekend, as thousands of Duke alumni returned to campus to celebrate, it was a very special reunion for the class of 1967. They were admitted in 1963, the same year Duke desegregated with the admission of five African-American undergraduates. 

Saturday morning Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead announced that a classmate of the first five, Jack O. Bovender Jr., T'67, MHA'69, a member of Duke's Board of Trustees, and his wife Barbara, would fund a $1 million scholarship named in their honor, marking a major university milestone. This scholarship will support Duke's enduring commitment to the benefits of diversity.

The gift was a surprise for Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, Gene Kendall and Nathaniel "Nat" White, the three surviving members of the first five students. They had assembled in Page Auditorium Saturday morning for what they thought was the usual presentation of reunion class gifts and a speech by Brodhead.

Brodhead interrupted the class roll call just after the Class of 1967 presented its gift to the annual fund to make the announcement. Reuben-Cooke and the Bovenders embraced on stage to standing applause.

"I was completely taken by surprise," said Reuben-Cooke, an emerita member of the Board of Trustees, law professor and former provost at the University of the District of Columbia. "Little did I expect that President Brodhead would announce such a gift, made more special because it came from a classmate."

The full impact of the gift "floored" Gene Kendall, a retired Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy.

"The applause from the group and subsequent tumult probably saved me from showing the tears that welled in my eyes," said Kendall who arrived at Duke in 1963 with a full scholarship to attend the engineering school.

"I think it's so special to have a classmate give such a gift on behalf of others in the class," Brodhead said, noting that the university will kick off a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of Duke's desegregation starting in Jan. 2013.

"Barbara and I are fortunate that we could honor Wilhelmina, Nat, Gene, Cassandra and Mary for their courage and persistence," said Bovender.  "Their bravery changed Duke forever, and we are especially pleased to recognize them at our 45th reunion, surrounded by many of our classmates who were fortunate to know them during their time at Duke."

Bovender is the retired chairman and CEO of the Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America. He was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2007. Last December it was announced that the Bovenders established a bequest of $25 million to support Duke's Fuqua School of Business, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and the School of Nursing.

The two deceased members of the first five to integrate Duke as undergraduates are Mary Vastie Mitchell Harris and Cassandra Smith Rush. 

The announcement was one of the highlights of Reunion Weekend 2012 which saw an 11 percent increase in returning alumni. For more information on Duke reunions, visit dukealumni.com/reunions-homecoming.