Fisher 45 Legacy Challenge text at center with an image of Gerson Hall in the background.

Future accounting students set up for success thanks to legacy gifts

The Fisher School recently accomplished its goal of receiving 45 legacy gifts in honor of the 45 years of the school.

In 2022, the Fisher School of Accounting celebrated 45 years of providing exceptional accounting education to students. In that time, more than 10,500 students have graduated from the school and gone on to careers across the business landscape.   

To ensure that future accounting students have access to the same outstanding education as the generations before them, the Fisher School launched the Fisher 45 Legacy Challenge. During a five-year period, we asked our alumni and friends to consider making an estate commitment to benefit the Fisher School.

Thanks to their commitment to ensuring the school’s bright future, Fisher alumni and friends boosted the school’s legacy gifts to 45, representing the number of years since the school’s founding.

Because of these 45 legacy gifts, the Fisher School will be able to fund future programs, scholarships, faculty projects and more. Through legacy gifts made today, the school is able to better make decisions about how it can continue supporting its community in the years ahead.

For Joelen Kilbas Merkel (BSAc ’73), the decision to continue supporting her beloved alma mater through a legacy gift was as simple as making the gift itself.

“The beginning of my success was at UF,” Merkel said. “For me, and likely for everyone who made a legacy gift, this gift acknowledges the accomplishments of the alumni and the Fisher School while embracing the future.”

After graduating from the Fisher School, Merkel joined Arthur Andersen’s Miami office and enjoyed early career success thanks to her education and the mentorship of the office’s managing partner at the time, Al Warrington.

“For a woman to get hired by a Big 8 accounting firm was a big deal in 1973,” Merkel recalled. “I am so thankful to UF for providing me with the education and networking opportunities, as well as for introducing me to Al, who was a great mentor and friend.”

After three years, Merkel was hired by Arthur Andersen client Chris-Craft Industries, Inc., a New York Stock Exchange company. She spent the next 25 years of her career there in leadership roles – Vice President and Treasurer and Chief Accounting Officer. Over her career, Merkel never forgot what helped her become an exceptional business leader and made giving back to UF a priority.

Merkel has used her accounting skills in service to multiple finance and accounting committees as part of the UF Board of Trustees, UF Foundation Board and Warrington College of Business Advisory Council. In addition to her legacy gift, Merkel and her husband and fellow UF alumnus, Bob, have supported the university through a number of endowments.

Different from her endowment gifts, Merkel sees a special benefit to legacy giving.

“A legacy gift is very easy to make,” she said. “It’s not an immediate cash outflow, but a commitment for down the road. This is money that the school can use to continue helping accounting students into the future, even after I’m gone.”

Fisher School alumnus and Principal-In-Charge at HBK CPAs & Consultants Michael Kohner (BSAc, MAcc ’86) also saw an opportunity to continue giving back to future accounting students by making a legacy gift during the Fisher 45 Legacy Challenge.

“Giving on an annual basis is something that I do regularly, and I wanted to make sure I can continue doing that,” Kohner said. “It’s about making a long-term difference through a relatively easy process and for a noble cause.”

Kohner spent decades of his career at Arthur Andersen and Andersen Tax before launching the West Palm Beach office of HBK, where he assists clients on navigating complex financial transactions with challenging characteristics that required tailored solutions.

In addition to annual giving, Kohner donates his time back to UF through time speaking with students and serving on the Fisher School Advisory Board since the early 1990s, making him one of the longest serving current members of the board.

As someone who has seen business evolve over his decades-long career, Kohner notes that students today will have to ready themselves for the impact of artificial intelligence on the accounting industry.

“AI is the future of business,” Kohner said. “Accounting is going to change over the next decade because of AI, and future students need to be prepared for that.”

Thanks to legacy gifts like those from Kohner and Merkel, accounting and business students will be well prepared to take on the changing future of business.

If you would like to make a legacy gift to benefit future generations of Warrington students or learn more about the simple process to make a legacy gift, please contact Alison Law