Photo of donor Richard Jourdan


Alum's hobby coin collection leads to science mentor program endowment


Nearly ten years ago the late Cliff Chancey, head of the UNI Department of Physics, proposed an idea to Richard Jourdan for a unique program that would identify new majors who, despite strong potential, might be at higher risk to struggle with the demands of college and a challenging major.

From that conversation, the Jourdan Mentor-Scholar award was born.

Richard, 90, is the grandson of Dr. Louis Begeman, after whom UNI’s physics building is named. Begeman, an internationally recognized researcher, came to Iowa State Teacher’s College in 1899. During his nearly 58 year tenure he was head of physics and chemistry and was a noted campus leader. 

Richard has a long and rich relationship with the Department of Physics, as did his late sister Mary Frances and their parents before them.  Together they created the Begeman Scholarship and the Begeman Fund for Excellence. The idea of establishing a new fund that would also recognize the Jourdan branch of the family appealed to Richard. 

For the last several years three to five students annually have received support from the Jourdan Mentor-Scholar fund. Freshmen are paired with upperclassmen; in turn, the mentees have the opportunity to apply to be mentors when they are juniors and seniors. 

Recently Richard began talking with Paul Shand, head of the UNI Department of Physics, about endowing the fund to ensure significant, permanent support during Richard’s lifetime. At the same time Richard had been considering selling the bulk of his medieval coin collection.

At its height, Richard’s collection included more than 800 rare coins covering 600 AD to 1718 from nearly 30 European countries and was regarded as an important collection in the international numismatic world. Richard is something of an amateur historian, his interest growing into a passion following three years of work and travel in Western Europe in the early 70s. Richard quickly discovered that coins mirror a country’s ruling lineage and, therefore, a country’s history. 

When, as an adult, Richard began to build a personal library that reflected his interest in history, he became familiar with Dr. Philip Grierson. Grierson was a world renowned historian, coin collector and coin scholar; Richard felt his library would be incomplete without Grierson’s volumes. Those volumes became Richard’s roadmap for his coin collecting avocation. 

After lengthy preparation in partnership with his representative from England, Richard’s collection was offered for sale at the 49th International Numismatic Convention in January in New York City. 

Collectors from across the world gathered to meet leading world specialists in ancient numismatics, and to buy and sell during the accompanying auction. Richard’s collection was offered as a separate parcel and eagerly anticipated by buyers. 

Shand says the newly endowed program will be a significant asset to the department for generations to come, particularly given the growing twin problems of student debt and college affordability. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the program is early intervention. If a student is struggling, the mentor is likely to be the first to notice and offer assistance. “This is a wonderful program for both mentors and first-year students,” Shand says. “Richard should be proud of his brainchild.”

For his part, Richard admits to feeling some relief that his collection at long last has been sold. “They were in the bank all the time so not readily accessible. My knowledge of European history from building the collection was my reward. The catalogues from my sales are what I love and where I can always revisit my passion. And I feel good about being able to set the Jourdan fund up substantially; I can see it working while I’m still alive.” 

Richard did keep four British coins from the 9th century and hopes to purchase a couple more at auction in May. He’ll keep his hand in the game.