University of Wisconsin–Madison

iSchool receives major gift: Mary Elizabeth Koch Fund

The iSchool recently received an unprecedented gift: a $5.5 million donation with the flexibility to be used at the discretion of the school. The gift will support the research and diversity missions of the iSchool. Specifically, the gift is expected to fund the research of new junior faculty members, helping them become prominent scholars in the information field and giving iSchool students more opportunities to collaborate with faculty in their research. Diversity projects may include scholarships, as well as support for projects seeking to further strengthen inclusivity and equity at the iSchool. 

The generous donation was made by the estate of Mary Elizabeth Koch, an avid reader with connections to Madison. Born in Pasadena, California, in 1920, Ms. Koch’s family moved to Madison when she was seven years old. Her father completed a PhD and joined the faculty at UW-Madison, and Ms. Koch eventually earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education.

After teaching for a year and spending a few years working in the private sector, Ms. Koch accepted a position in Washington D.C. where she worked for the Civilian Personnel Division of the United States Air Force at the Pentagon. In 1956, she moved to the Los Angeles area and married Oliver T. “Joe” Koch in 1961. When she retired in 1978, she held the rank of Deputy Chief of Civilian Personnel for the Air Force Ballistic Missile and Space Program. 

Ms. Koch loved books and reading. Upon retiring, she found time to indulge that love. Averaging about 68 books per year, she recorded reading over 1,900 books from 1986 to 2014. Though her reading habits are documented less after 2014, she still read many books every year until the end of her life in 2019.

The iSchool is humbled by the generosity of Mary Elizabeth Koch and will use her gift to continue its mission to educate responsible leaders, critical thinkers, and creative innovators in the information professions.

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Title Page: Personal Reminiscences of Libby Prison and My Escape Therefrom
Image courtesy of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

As Ms. Koch was an annual supporter of the iSchool, former iSchool Director Kristin Eschenfelder had been in regular correspondence with her. In 2017, Ms. Koch called Eschenfelder seeking help placing a memoir written by a Wisconsin-born Civil War soldier who escaped from a Confederate prison in Virginia. She hoped that the volume would find a permanent home in a Wisconsin archive. Eschenfelder consulted with iSchool staff member Meredith Lowe to determine where it belonged. Meredith contacted the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, which gladly accepted the volume. Personal Reminiscences of Libby Prison and My Escape Therefrom, 1904 by Albert Wallber is now part of the collection at the Veterans Museum.