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KU School of Medicine alumnus gives $100,000 to establish scholarship

March 5, 2012

In November 1949, Hugo Zee stepped off a ship in Hoboken, N.J., with $100 in his pocket and a determination to start a new life. Within 10 years, the Holland immigrant would graduate from the University of Kansas and the KU School of Medicine, where today a new scholarship bears his name.

Hugo Zee, M.D.

Hugo Zee, M.D., and his wife, Nora Dougherty Zee, of Atlanta, gave $100,000 to KU Endowment to create an endowed scholarship for medical students. The scholarship states a preference for African-American students.

“I wanted some of our money to do some good,” said Zee. “The first thing I thought of was the University of Kansas — that was a very positive experience for me.”

Zee earned two degrees at KU, a bachelor’s in 1954 and a medical degree in 1958. He is grateful for the opportunities KU provided. As a KU student, he lived in a scholarship hall. When someone stole all of his money— including what he had saved for tuition — his biology professor, Laurence Woodruff, paid his tuition. While he was working on campus caring for laboratory animals, his biochemistry professor, Dwight Mulford, encouraged him to apply for medical school.

During medical school, Zee became interested in psychiatry. “I met Drs. Bill and Karl Menninger, and for my residency, I went to Topeka to get my training,” he said. Zee began his career at Menninger Clinic. Later, he moved to Atlanta, where he has practiced psychiatry for more than 30 years. Now in his 80s, he still sees patients.

His passion to “do some good” reflects in part an understanding he gained through early experiences in the U.S. He had emigrated from post-World War II Holland at his father’s urging. “Holland was severely affected by the German occupation, and it was very dismal looking into the future,” said Zee. “I had an uncle living in Texas who invited me to come to America.”

On the train to Texas, he sat by an African-American man. “He was very kind to me,” Zee said. “But when we got to St. Louis, that man and all the other African-Americans had to move to a separate wagon at the back of the train. All of a sudden, I noticed that he was black and I was white, and that I got to sit in a better place on the train. That was one of my first impressions that things like that existed here.”

It took a while for Zee to feel at home in the U.S. “You have no idea how frightening it is when you come here as an immigrant,” he said. “In the late 1940s, the economy was not all that great in America. Minimum wage was about 75 cents an hour, I worked where I could and was fortunate to be able to find a job. I literally went from door to door, seeing if people wanted me to work for them. Fortunately, people accepted me.” His jobs took him from Texas to Arkansas to Kansas City, where he learned of KU.

Barbara Atkinson, M.D., executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center and dean of KU School of Medicine, expressed appreciation for the scholarship established by Zee. “The KU School of Medicine is committed to recruiting and educating a diverse group of students at our medical school,” said Atkinson. “Dr. Zee’s generous gift will help us with that goal and will create a lasting opportunity that will benefit generations of our students.”

The gift counts toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, a comprehensive fundraising campaign scheduled for a public kickoff on April 28.

KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

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March 5, 2012
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