Niagara University has received a gift from the estate of the late Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko. The gift, which will exceed $4.1 million, will be used for several university projects and initiatives.

“We are incredibly humbled and thankful for the gift that Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko has left for Niagara University,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. “As an immigrant, Rose was familiar with the struggles of people who live on the margins of our society, and Niagara’s Vincentian mission resonated strongly with her. We are incredibly thankful to her for her generosity, and it is our mission to uphold the wishes and the legacy of Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko.”

Through the estate gift, the following initiatives have been established at Niagara University:

  • The Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Chair in Professional Ethics will initially be dedicated to ethical issues in the context of medicine and healthcare. This work will include hosting academic conferences and workshops on campus and fostering new research opportunities for students interested in medical ethics.
  • Beginning this fall, the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race and Equality will focus on race and equality, generating and applying research to cultivate exchange among faculty and students, engaging meaningfully with the broader community on initiatives that apply research to action, and integrating issues of race and equality into the teaching/learning environment at Niagara.
  • The associate director of equity and inclusion, a new positon at the university, will serve as the Title IX coordinator and be responsible for training and communication as mandated by New York’s “Enough is Enough” legislation, the biannual campus climate survey, annual reporting and affirmative action oversight.

In addition to these specific initiatives, Niagara will also use funding from the Ostapenko estate for student scholarships, further enhancing the university’s mission of providing an affordable, high-quality education to students from all walks of life.

Ostapenko was a native of Germany who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s before becoming a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. Utilizing her talents as a clothing designer, Ostapenko opened The Sewing Shop in Washington, D.C., the precursor to The House of Fine Fabrics, a 17-store corporation. She sold the fabric store chain in 1978 to Fabri-Center of America.

Ostapenko’s philanthropy supported many types of educational, religious, health, and community service organizations. She was introduced to Niagara University by her friend, 1951 NU alumnus Jim Keenan, and developed a friendship with the Rev. Francis X. Prior, C.M., who served as NU’s vice president for institutional advancement. Ostapenko received an honorary doctorate from Niagara in 1986. Upon her passing in 2014, a portion of her estate was designated to support Niagara University.