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Late philanthropist donates $4 million to Niagara University

A German clothing designer who operated a fabric store chain has donated $4.1 million to Niagara University.

The bequest comes from the estate of the late Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko. It will be used to fund a new Center for Race and Equality, an endowed chair in professional ethics and a new post, associate director of equity and inclusion. Some of the money will be used for student scholarships.

The German-born Ostapenko immigrated to the United States in the 1930s. She 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.

She was introduced to Niagara University by her friend, 1951 Niagara alumnus Jim Keenan, and she developed a friendship with the Rev. Francis X. Prior, who served as Niagara's vice president for institutional advancement. Ostapenko received an honorary doctorate from Niagara in 1986. Upon her death in 2014, a portion of her estate was designated to support Niagara University.

“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, Niagara president. “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."

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