Lee Johnson, a 1967 graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and his wife, Paula, never took the time to travel outside the United States and explore the world when they were younger.
Now the Johnsons are giving UA Little Rock students an opportunity they didn’t have in college by donating $25,000 to provide assistance for students majoring in history who want to study abroad.
The Lee and Paula Johnson Travel Scholarship will help students pursue either a study abroad program offered by the UA Little Rock Department of History or one facilitated by the university.
Married 47 years, the Johnsons did not have much time to travel while they were raising their daughter and building their careers.
“It occurred to me that we had cheated ourselves by not traveling much earlier,” Lee said. “We thought that it would be a good thing to help students at UA Little Rock travel and see some of the things you read about in a history book.”
Once they retired, they have traveled to Europe several times, especially England, France, and Germany.
“What I enjoy about travel is just being in a new place, striking up a conversation with someone that I will only see for a brief time, experiencing different food, and trying to read the signs in a different language,” Paula said.
They decided to help UA Little Rock history students since the couple have a deep love of history and enjoy visiting museums and historical sites.
Lee has also found a new appreciation for the department through his volunteer work with the University History Institute. The institute sponsors the Evenings with History series, which features presentations by UA Little Rock faculty members sharing their current research.
“I didn’t major in history, but I’ve always loved history,” said Lee, who is a retired certified public accountant. “I think we have a top-notch department.”
To this day, Lee still remembers the “legendary” history professor, Richard Dixon, who taught his Western Civilization class when Lee attended then-Little Rock University.
“He was one of the best professors I ever had,” Lee said. “He had a fantastic memory and could remember you when he hadn’t see you for years.”
Because the Johnsons donated the money directly from their IRA, they did not have to pay income taxes on the gift.
“This type of gift is called an IRA rollover and works for anyone that is 70 1/2 years and older,” said Jan Davis, director of planned giving at the university. “When a person reaches that age, they are required to take a distribution from their IRA whether they want to or not. People are taxed on all funds received.”
However, donating money from an IRA to a charitable organization bypasses the taxes.
“You have to start taking distributions on IRAs at 70 ½,” Paula said. “If you don’t need the money for living expenses, it makes good sense to take the money and use it for a worthy charitable institution like a university.”