Giving to Iowa’s Future

Although he was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Dr. James “Jim” Hersey was shaped by his upbringing in Independence, Iowa. And even though he moved to Colorado shortly after finishing his ophthalmology residency, Iowa still held a special place in his heart. Before his death in 2019, Dr. Hersey and his wife of 65 years, Phyllis, still felt such a strong connection to Iowa that they decided to include a gift to the University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology in their estate planning.  

Having grown up in Independence, Dr. Hersey stayed close to home for college and attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. After growing up with a father who was a doctor, and with the University of Iowa just down the road, Dr. Hersey came to Iowa for medical school (1954-1957) and for his ophthalmology residency (1961-1965). Phyllis remembers this time as an intense period of training for Dr. Hersey and growth for the couple. “All our friends were in the middle of medical training also. We didn't do anything terribly exciting except go to the football games. There wasn't really time for much else.”


Iowa football remained a touch point for the couple as, even after moving to Denver after residency, they remained devoted Iowa Hawkeye fans. The Hersey’s also adopted the Dever sports teams after moving—becoming avid Colorado Rockies and Denver Broncos fans.  

When asked what made her and Dr. Hersey want to give back to the University of Iowa, Phyllis said, “the university is what made our life really. It really set us up for the future.” One the Hersey’s daughters recalled her father’s belief in the importance of education and reiterated, “it was the foundation for everything, and we’ve had such a wonderful life. Even though he lived most of his adult life outside of Iowa. I think he always considered Iowa his home. His parents had both gone to Iowa and they were so connected with the university. You know, it's part of the family heritage to take care of what has supported you.” 

The support the University of Iowa provided for Dr. Hersey and his family led to a long career where he practiced in Denver for 35 years. In 1985 Dr. Hersey was one of the founding partners of Denver Eye Surgeons, one of the first outpatient surgery centers of its kind in Denver. It was always the people that kept Dr. Hersey so engaged with his practice and his community. “He was interested in so many different things and could really talk to people about almost anything and as Mom said, he just loved people so he could put them at ease and reassure them and he just made them feel comfortable,” said Susan Carmody, another of the Hersey’s daughters. His love of people continued after he retired and led him to regularly volunteer at the homeless shelter in downtown Denver, as well as taking him on two medical mission trips to the Philippines.  

Through all the twists and turns of life, the Hersey’s always felt a connection to Iowa. This connection is part of what makes the Ophthalmology Department at Iowa so special, and it’s what led to the Hersey’s philanthropic support. Their support will have lasting effects on all the future ophthalmologists that will come through the department, just like Jim from Independence did all those years ago.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2024