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Breaking News - U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen toured the UNLV School of Medicine on Monday, April 15. Sen. Rosen met with Dean Atkinson, faculty and students, talked about the doctor shortage, and the effort in Washington D.C. to increase the number of medical residencies.
Making the Rounds with Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson
 Issue 190 - April 16th, 2019
Friends & Colleagues,

Scholarships to the UNLV School of Medicine not only help attract the best and the brightest, they also protect students from feeling the crushing weight of student loans. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the median medical school student debt is $180,000. After interest, total repayment often reaches around $400,000. Heavy debt frequently causes students to select higher paying specialities, which contributes to the lack of primary care physicians. Fortunately, donors, led by the Engelstad Family Foundation, have largely taken the financial burden off our first two classes of students. In today’s newsletter, we feature Kris Engelstad McGarry, who reveals why the Engelstad Foundation has donated more than $10 million for scholarships and graciously has agreed to match any new scholarships that come in for our upcoming third class, up to 17. If you’d like to be one of the donors that the Engelstad Foundation will match, please contact me at or call (702) 895-3524. 
Barbara signature, first name only
Kris Engelstad McGarry has been a friend of UNLV for years, and more recently has become one of the UNLV School of Medicine's strongest supporters. Her foundation is generously providing four-year scholarships to more than one-hundred medical students, and offering to match additional scholarship donations for the Class of 2023.
To better understand how the Engelstad Family Foundation came into being --- and why it focuses so much of its philanthropic attention on educational scholarships, assistance to the disabled, and medical research, a brief history lesson is in order.

Not surprisingly, Kris Engelstad McGarry, Trustee of the Foundation and daughter of Ralph and Betty Engelstad, the couple who set the stage for the creation of the foundation that has donated nearly $335 million in Nevada since 2002, is the perfect teacher.

She has played a critical role in the Foundation becoming a key benefactor to UNLV, Three Square Food Bank, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, Miracle League of Las Vegas, Spread the Word Nevada, Project 150, Opportunity Village, The Smith Center and so many others through scholarships and grants.

Now the well-known face of the Foundation, Engelstad McGarry tells you that neither her father -- he passed away in 2002 at the age of 72 -- nor her 86-year-old mother had any inkling growing up that they could one day give money away.

“They came from working class, humble backgrounds,” she says of her parents, who were both born in tiny Minnesota farming towns. They would later meet in nearby Grand Forks, North Dakota, home of the University of North Dakota.

Had it not been for a scholarship to the University of North Dakota, Engelstad McGarry says her father’s life’s work may well have been along the lines of what he did during the summers in high school for a farm supply company -- assembling steel buildings on farms from morning to night.

Hard manual labor, Engelstad McGarry says, was what her father told her he expected his life to be before he was awarded an athletic scholarship.

“College wasn’t going to happen without that scholarship to play hockey,” she says. “He came from a family without any disposable income -- both my parents did.”

Though good enough as a goalie to be drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, Ralph Engelstad set out to use his business degree, founding his own construction company, Engelstad Construction, in the 1950s. He also conducted a whirlwind romance with a bank teller by the name of Betty Stocker, marrying her in 1954.

“He made some apartment buildings in North Dakota but it didn’t take him long to realize that the climate in North Dakota didn’t give him much building time,” says Engelstad McGarry, adding that during a trip to Las Vegas, his father saw many construction possibilities.

The Engelstads moved to Las Vegas in 1959, the same year his construction company secured construction contracts to build FHA homes. No longer was money a problem.

“My mother never thought she’d leave Grand Forks and she never thought she wouldn’t have to work,” Englestad McGarry says.   

By 1990, Engelstad was worth an estimated $300 million. He had become one of the largest landowners in the U.S. and was involved in numerous successful business ventures, including the 1971 purchase of the Flamingo Capri Motel on the Las Vegas Strip.
The Imperial Palace was one of the first large scale businesses to hire the disabled. About 13 percent of the employees had some sort of disability. "He saw in them people who wanted to work and he gave them the chance,” Engelstad McGarry says. “He was always an advocate for the underdog.”
He added a casino to the motel and in 1979 he renamed it the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino. Engelstad, one of the few independent operators on the Strip, was the first to establish a drive-through sports book and the first to establish an on-site medical clinic for guests and employees at the casino.

The Imperial Palace -- it was sold to Harrah’s three years after Engelstad’s death -- was one of the first large scale businesses to hire the disabled. About 13 percent of the employees had some sort of disability.

“He saw in them people who wanted to work and he gave them the chance,” Engelstad McGarry says. “He was always an advocate for the underdog.”

(By 2018 the Engelstad Family Foundation had donated $22 million to Opportunity Village, which serves adults in Southern Nevada with intellectual and related disabilities, and $3 million to the Blind Center of Nevada.)

An avid reader of newspapers, Engelstad would often send his daughter, Kris, out to make contact with individuals he read about who had suffered some misfortune. Sometimes, Engelstad McGarry recalls, she would come home and find people staying at their house because they had nowhere else to stay.

“My father would help people out but they had to agree not to say who helped them,” Engelstad McGarry says.

Engelstad opened a second Imperial Palace resort in Biloxi, MS and in 1996 he was co-developer of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Six years later, he would die of lung cancer. Before he did, he and his wife set up the Engelstad Family Foundation, formalizing and increasing the kind of charitable giving the family had done behind the scenes.

Engelstad’s death from lung cancer, coupled with Engelstad McGarry’s two bouts with cancer, served as a catalyst for many gifts to healthcare organizations, including more than $20 million to the now closed Nevada Cancer Institute. “It’s a disease that affects too many people,” she says. 

Education, Engelstad McGarry notes, has been stressed since the Foundation began in 2002. 

“My dad saw how it could change a life, how it changed his life,” the UNLV graduate says, stressing that it gives people hope for a better future. “It can change an entire family tree.”

In 2009 the Engelstad Scholars Program at UNLV was established by the Foundation. The $12.6 million gift is the largest active scholarship in the university’s history and the largest active endowment in the history of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

“I have the greatest job ever,” Engelstad McGarry says. “I give away hope. There’s no greater job on Earth.”  

Robert Vargas received some of that hope, both as a UNLV undergraduate and now as a UNLV School of Medicine student.

“Being a dual recipient for the Engelstad Scholarship has allowed me to pursue a career I had never fathomed for myself,” he says. “I was a first generation college student coming from two parents that immigrated from Mexico to pursue a better future for their children….Currently, I have interests in family medicine and/or OB-GYN that I hope can help fill a need within our community that has given so much to me. I am truly thankful...for wonderful donors like the Engelstad Foundation that have truly allowed me to reach my version of the American Dream.” 
 Click to see recent stories about UNLV School of Medicine
Sen. Jacky Rosen Spotlights Nevada Physician Shortage

Las Vegas Sun

April 16, 2019 
Keeping Doctors in Las Vegas - Sen. Jacky Rosen Visits UNLV School of Medicine

KSNV Channel 3

April 15, 2019


There were 3,408 heart transplants in the U.S. in 2018, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

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