Serving Nebraska Since 1934

Joseph Cooper

After emigrating from Russia, a young Joseph Cooper worked in a variety of capacities in New York City’s movie theatres. He went on to develop a chain of theatres in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado. After purchasing theatres in Lincoln, Nebraska, he made this city the center of his theatre activities outside of New York, while continuing to live there.

On December 14, 1934, Joe Cooper created The Cooper Foundation and co-located the office with Cooper Theatres, Inc. At that time there were only three hundred or so foundations in the country. By June of 1937, the Foundation’s bank balance stood at $37,732, and later that year we made our first grants totaling $5,000.

From the day he created the Foundation in 1934 until his death in 1946, Joe Cooper donated proceeds from his movie theatre interests to fund the gifts of the Foundation. Upon his death, he left the theatre business to the Foundation. Under our management the chain prospered and grew to include pioneering round Cinerama Theatres in Minneapolis, Denver, and Omaha. We sold the theatre business in the mid 1970s, resulting in a substantial increase in the Foundation’s endowment. Since the Foundation was formed it has given over $23 million to support programs and projects in Nebraska.

Mr. Cooper’s interest in young people has been honored by the Foundation’s continued priority on grantmaking in the areas of education, human services, the arts, the humanities, and the environment throughout Nebraska, primarily Lincoln and Lancaster County.

Cooper Foundation through the Years:

1934

Cooper Foundation founded on December 14.

1935

The Foundation gave its first grant, $500 to the Boy Scouts for camp improvements.

1938

The first memorial scholarships at the University of Nebraska Foundation established in honor of deceased trustees J.E. Miller and Charles Stuart.

1942

1942

First grant for the ‘Arts’ made to the Lincoln Symphony Orchestra.

1942

The Cooper Board of Trustees extended the life of the corporation from 50 years to perpetuity.

1946

Joe Cooper died on March 20 and the Foundation takes over the Cooper Theatres.

1946

The Board of Trustees began what was to become a decades-long discussion with the IRS to retain the Foundation’s tax exempt status while owning a multi-state theatre business.

1947

1947

Major grants totaling $61,000 given to the University of Nebraska for campus beautification.

1951

1951

Approved $32,000 to the City of Lincoln to renovate Lincoln’s oldest park, which became Cooper Park.

1953

1953

Trustee J. Lee Rankin resigned to become Assistant United States Attorney General.

1956

Trustees consolidated leadership of the theatre business in Lincoln, Nebraska and appointed a general manager.

1958

The Board begins to budget for grants and to consider specific grantmaking objectives.

1961

1961

Cooper’s first Cinerama theatre opened.

1963

On New Year’s Eve, E.N. “Jack” Thompson was elected president.

1965

Cooper Foundation joins the Council on Foundations.

1966

1966

The last of six grants (total $57,080) was made to the University of Nebraska State Museum (Morrill Hall) for the creation of 14 dioramas depicting the flora and fauna of Nebraska.

1967

1967

New Cooper Lincoln theatre opened at 52nd & O in “suburban Lincoln.”

1969

The Tax Reform Act formally defines private foundations and establishes rules on payout requirements, self-dealing, and business ownership.

1973

1973

Cooper Plaza building at 12th & P Streets is completed, housing the new Plaza 4 Theatres and Cooper’s offices.

1974

The Foundation’s first formal grantmaking policies were adopted.

1975

1975

Cooper funded a grant to equip the new Cedar Point Biological Station at Lake McConaughy.

1977

The Foundation made an initial $100,000 pledge (later increased to $200,000) to increase Merit Scholarships at the University of Nebraska.

1979

The Foundation sells the Cooper Theatres business to Commonwealth Theatres of Kansas City.

1980

1980

A $70,000 grant was made toward the planned Clyde Malone Community Center.

1982

1982

Cooper Foundation organized the effort to establish a local food bank, and hired Bob Troyer to lead the process. He became the first Executive Director of the Lincoln Food Bank.

1987

A $70,000 grant helped establish Voices for Children.

1988

1988

A grant of $8,500 helped establish Bright Lights.

1989

The Cooper-UNL Forum on World issues lecture series was created, later renamed the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues.

1990

1990

Art Thompson was appointed President; E.N. Thompson was elected Chair of the board.

1997

A $25,000 grant was made toward the founding of the Child Advocacy Center.

1997

The Foundation sold the Cooper Plaza building.

1998

A $25,000 grant to the YMCA helped create a “community wraparound center,” (later becoming a Community Learning Center) at Elliot Elementary School.

2000

The Board of Trustees added the ‘Environment’ as a grantmaking priority.

2000

2000

A grant of $250,000 completed the capital campaign for the Cooper YMCA in Southwest Lincoln.

2001

2001

The Foundation received $192,387.22, the remainder of a trust set up by Joe Cooper in 1937 for his son – those funds were granted to UNL’s Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center for their new building.

2002

Chair Jack Thompson died on December 7, having served the Foundation for 50 years.

2003

2003

Jack Campbell was elected chair of the board in early 2003.

2007

The Foundation made a major change in its investment policy, allocating 100 percent of its endowment to equities to maximize appreciation and grants.

2008

The stock market declined, as did the Cooper Foundation’s endowment, which plummeted from $24.9 million to $14.9 million. The board adopted temporary grant guidelines calling for smaller grants that focused on the highest priorities.

2010

2010

A grant to NET Foundation for Television of $20,000 for equipment helped launch the Platte Basin Timelapse Project.

2011

A $25,000 grant to the Lincoln Community Foundation helped start Give to Lincoln Day.

2012

2012

Cooper Foundation joined with 12 other funders to develop the Lincoln Vital Signs report which provides comprehensive data on key economic, social, health, and community wellbeing measures.

2014

2014

Longtime legal counsel Richard A. “Dick” Knudsen was named an Honorary Trustee.

2015

2015

To celebrate 80 years of grantmaking, $202,293 was granted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to fund the first phase of equipment for Innovation Studio at Innovation Campus.

2015

2015

To celebrate 80 years of grantmaking, $202,293 was granted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to fund the first phase of equipment for Innovation Studio at Innovation Campus.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.