Academics and Research / Current Issue / Magazine Feature

Gift establishes center for study of aging

DU's School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management has been named in honor of donor Fritz Knoebel. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

A $17.5 million gift, among the largest in the University’s history, will be used in part to establish a center at DU for the study of aging.

Betty Knoebel, widow of Denver food-service pioneer Ferdinand “Fritz” Knoebel, announced the gift in May. It includes the B Bar K Ranch—a 996-acre property in Morrison, Colo., valued in excess of $10 million—and a future cash commitment.

DU is using the funds to establish the Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging and to support the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management (HRTM) in the University’s Daniels College of Business.

The Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging will expand DU’s role in interdisciplinary research on aging and aging-related conditions. Faculty positions will be added in molecular life sciences and bioengineering. When the ranch is sold, DU will apply up to $10 million from the net proceeds to help fund construction of facilities to house the Knoebel Center and support its programs and research.

At HRTM, Knoebel’s gift will increase student scholarships, faculty support, industry partnerships and experiential learning programs with the overarching goal of achieving international distinction. The school has been named the Fritz Knoebel School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management.

“Betty Knoebel’s generosity to DU will benefit both our students and the broader public that we serve,” says Chancellor Robert Coombe. “The population of older Americans is growing rapidly. The work of the Knoebel Center will help to extend the lives of the aged and improve the quality of their lives and those of their family members. We are particularly excited that this gift will usher in an expansion of our partnership with Denver Health. And we are proud that our HRTM program will bear the name of such a prominent business leader.”

In 2007, DU and Denver Health agreed to partner on several health care-related research initiatives and programs.

“As the graying of America occurs, there is a tremendous need for understanding the processes of aging and the approaches to keep us healthy into old age,” says Denver Health CEO Patricia Gabow. “As an institution that cares for one-third of Denver’s population and as a partner with DU, we see this center for the study of aging as a unique resource for this region that will achieve important advances in this needed area.”

Denver native Fritz Knoebel founded Knoebel Mercantile Co., a bakery distributor, in 1929, and built it into the nation’s largest privately owned food-service distribution company. Known as Nobel Inc., it was acquired by Sysco Inc. as a subsidiary in 1982.

Fritz Knoebel was chairman of Nobel/Sysco Food Services Co. until his retirement in 1999 at age 90. He died in 2005. Betty Knoebel, now 78, and Fritz Knoebel received honorary degrees from DU in 1992 in recognition of their role in the Denver business and philanthropic communities.

“I’m so pleased to be able to honor my husband’s legacy and recognize the nationally ranked programs of the Daniels College, particularly the longstanding reputation and industry partnerships of the HRTM school,” says Betty Knoebel. “Likewise, I want to support the University’s plans to further develop aging-related programs that will improve lives everywhere.”



  1. Joy Seacat, PhD says:

    I am very interested in learning more about the Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging. As a DU graduate and recently having worked for a number of years as a psychologist in nursing homes, I find this new program most exciting and enticing. Please keep me posted on what’s happening as the center gets established. My best wishes to all involved.
    Joy M Seacat, PhD, PA, RN,
    717 Emerson St
    Denver, CO 80218
    Hm: 303 863 0866
    Cell: 720 271 1166

    • Chelsey Baker-Hauck says:

      Thank you for your interest Joy. I’m really excited about the possibilities of this new center, too. We’ll continue coverage of center developments in the University of Denver Magazine and online at, so please stay tuned!

      • Candace Brown says:

        Chelsey- this is wonderful news! As a gerontologist, I am eager to know more about what the center will do! It has been disheartening to have known of several aging centers that have been shut down due to funding. As a Colorado resident, I am hopeful of what we can do for our aging state. Congraulations!

  2. Ruth Marie Montoya Starr, RN says:

    I chose this article for the informative speech I will be giving on Sat.(Sept.25)in my TWC class on public speaking for a diverse audience. A few years ago I worked for the UCHSC on a garden study that was intergenerational. As a volunteer I used the information gained and With help started an Intergenerational Cafting program in the Native community that I am a member of. I will follow your coverage of this important work.


  3. Carol Miller says:

    As a member of the team at the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, I read this announcement with great interest. What an incredible investment from Ms. Knoebel. It is sure to benefit generations to come. We hope we can work in tandem to improve quality of life in aging populations. 1 in 3 age 85 and up have Alzheimer’s! It’s alarming and we can do more when partnered! Best of luck!

  4. Carol Wilbur says:

    I am a “old” graduate of DU’s school of psycholoy. I would love to be involoved with this new addition to DU. I have a passion for research and would be a willing subject for any study. Please keep me posted on the progress.

    Thank you, Carol Wilbur

  5. Eugene Dawson PhD says:

    As Founder of the Colorado Gerontological Society and former Director of Gerontology Programs at the University of Northern Colorado (now retired)wish to be supportive of your efforts in the days ahead…E. Dawson PhD

  6. Hello – I am the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman. I support a statewide network of advocates who go to over 800 nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The Program amplifies and elevates the expressed wishes of residents and is integral to elder justice efforts in Colorado. We look forward to a developing relationship with the Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging on behalf of vulnerable elders across the state. Please add me to your distribution list. Thank you and best wishes!

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