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Mary Reed’s generosity helped shape University

The only thing most people know about Mary Reed is that her ghost is said to haunt the DU building that bears her name. But there is more to her story.

Born in Bucyrus, Ohio, on Oct. 8, 1875, Mary Dean Johnson traveled to Colorado in the late 1800s, met Verner Zevola Reed (also an Ohio native) in Colorado Springs, and married him in July 1893.

Verner Reed made his fortune from real estate investments in and around Colorado Springs, mining in Cripple Creek and ranching and selling oil in Wyoming. He died in April 1919, leaving his wife an estate valued at approximately $20 million—equal to nearly $400 million today.

The Reeds had three children: Joseph, Verner Jr. and Margery, for whom DU’s Margery Reed Hall is named. Margery, their first child, graduated from DU and became an assistant professor in the English department, where she met her husband, Paul Mayo, also a DU alumnus. Margery died in May 1925 of a disease likely contracted in Peru; she was 30.

By late fall of the following year, the University announced a $100,000 gift from Mary Reed to fund the Margery Reed Mayo Memorial Hall. (The name was later changed, at Mary Reed’s request, because students had been casually referring to the building as Memorial Hall.) When it became clear that this gift was not large enough to fund the kind of building Reed and others on campus imagined, she quietly gave another $100,000, as documented in a telegram from New York dated June 2, 1927.

Margery Reed Mayo Memorial Hall was dedicated on April 11, 1929, with Joseph Reed representing his mother, who did not make public appearances.

Reed’s philanthropy was again called on when the University decided that the Carnegie Library was no longer adequate. Reed’s gift of almost $500,000 funded construction of the Mary Reed Library and a related endowment. Dedicated in a three-day celebration in October 1932, the library’s specially fired red bricks and Indiana limestone trim continued the Collegiate Gothic architectural style that began with Margery Reed Hall.

Reed’s “…guiding thought from the moment the possibility of this library was first discussed until today has been to advance the cause of the University itself, promote the growth of Denver and the Rocky Mountain region and encourage scholarship in all its phases,” said Paul Mayo, who represented Reed at the dedication.

Over the next 10 years, Red added more than $200,000 to her previous gifts, served as a member of the Board of Trustees and received an honorary degree in 1939.

Reed’s generosity extended from health care and education related gifts to organizations in Colorado Springs and a 24-year philanthropic relationship with the Denver Community Chest (which later became the United Way).

Reed died in April 1945. She had willed most of her library to the University and stipulated that her portrait hang in the Mary Reed Library. This portrait, painted in 1923, still hangs in the building’s Renaissance Room.

The Denver press had dubbed Reed “Colorado’s Lady Bountiful,” but it seems quite evident that she was also DU’s Lady Bountiful. If there is any truth to the stories of her spirit inhabiting the building, surely that spirit is a benevolent one resulting from Reed’s immeasurable dedication to education and the University of Denver.

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