Tope Tradition

Rock Tope, now 68, warmly recalls how comfortable he felt as a child chatting with his aging grandfather over breakfast, whenever his family would travel from New Mexico to visit the big, white two-story house on Grand Avenue in Grand Junction.

Richard E. Tope was in his mid-80s by then, but Rock remembers an easy-going man with a wry sense of humor who knew how to talk to children. It was a talent he no doubt honed as an educator, first as principal at Grand Junction High School and then, from 1918-1938, as superintendent of Mesa County Valley School District 51. Tope Elementary School, built on North 7th Street in 1947, still bears his name today.

Rock’s grandfather, who died in 1962, is also remembered as a co-founder of Grand Junction Junior College established in 1925, which during the last 94 years has evolved to Colorado Mesa University. This, in part, is why Richard’s children, Dwight and Josephine (Rock’s father and aunt), created the Richard E. Tope Memorial Scholarship at the college nearly 40 years ago.

“Our parents left their estate to my brother and me when our mother passed away six years ago, but they left almost no instructions about what they wanted done with it,” said Rock, whose father retired as an insurance executive, and whose mom was the daughter of a prominent Baptist minister.

“I made a couple of significant donations in my parents’ name to a local (Albuquerque) hospital, and also to the Humane Society,” he said. “But last year, as I was reading CMU’s Annual Report, a lightbulb came on: We could create a scholarship at the university in my parents name, the same way my dad and aunt did all those years ago to honor my grandfather.”

Tope’s $100,000 endowment to the Colorado Mesa University Foundation created the Dwight and Carolyn Tope Scholarship, which will provide nearly $4,500 a year in scholarships for Mesa County students.

The generous gift is part of the CMU Foundation’s $9.6 million fundraising effort during the past fiscal year — built largely on small and moderate gifts from countless supporters who are giving students a hand up.

“My brother and I learned responsibility and morality from our parents — those qualities were very important to them,” said Rock, who currently lives in Albuquerque. “This scholarship seemed like something they really would have liked and, to me, it felt like a perfect way to give back to a community that was always very important to our family. It’s got my parent’s name on it, it’s going to help a lot of kids get an education and it’ll be around forever.”