Frugal life leads to impressive legacy

Harold M. Gersh (M.A. ’55) was a humble man whose legacy will be the support of generations of UMKC School of Education students who seek to change the world of education as we know it.


If there were a movie version of Gersh’s life, Tom Hanks would play the lead.  Gersh led a life that looked small on the outside—a nondescript home in Overland Park, Kansas, with a Honda in the garage, for instance—but was grand in design and impact.


Harold M. Gersh

Harold M. Gersh

Gersh first approached the School of Education about endowing a scholarship in 2007 and estimated that the gift might be for a few hundred thousand dollars. Instead, since his death last December at the age of 83, Gersh left nearly $1 million for endowed scholarships for UMKC’s secondary education students.


Having earned both his undergraduate degree in Economics from the College of Arts and Sciences and his master’s degree in Counseling from the School of Education, Gersh credited UMKC for transforming his life.


He taught English for ten years at Paseo Academy in Kansas City, Mo., and served as a counselor for 28 years at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Ks.  He impacted scores of students with his quiet, insightful and steady presence.


School of Education Professor Loyce Caruthers, Ph.D., had Gersh as her high school English teacher.  Accustomed to turning in adequate work without feedback, Caruthers was surprised when Gersh one day pulled her aside and asked her to redo an assignment.


“Mr. Gersh was the first teacher who took the time to inspire me to rise to a higher level of performance,” Caruthers said.  “Because of his confidence in me, I began to believe in myself and now possess four academic degrees.  He changed my life.”


Gersh always encouraged his students to expand their horizons.  “It was important to me that they learn, just as I did,” he once mused, “how subjects outside their chosen field can lead to personal enrichment.”


Required to take a music appreciation course—which he despised at the time—as an undergraduate, Gersh eventually discovered a lifelong passion for classical music.   And although he enjoyed the Kansas City Symphony performances for years, it was as a volunteer usher and not as a ticket-paying patron.  Gersh similarly volunteered at the Quality Hill Playhouse and the now shuttered Heartland Theater, both in Kansas City, for many years.


An avid traveler and ballroom dancer, at its foundation Gersh’s life embodied UMKC’s service mindset.  In 2011, he stated his plan was to help students achieve their academic goals with minimal debt.  “I want to open doors to kids with financial need, and it is my intent that the scholarship recipients will one day be in a similar position to give back to UMKC and their community,” he said.


As Gersh knew, it only takes one person to make a difference.  One gift to change the future.