(February 8, 1927 -)
Christina Hixon is the sole trustee of the Lied family’s foundation. Her support has continually helped students who faced financial uncertainty across the nation and established various libraries, fine arts centers, and business ventures. The Hixson Opportunity Awards for first-generation students are named in her honor.
In the summer of 1994, Iowa State President Martin Jischke and ISU Foundation officials approached the trustee of a Las Vegas philanthropy regarding a scholarship gift. They had no idea that strong-willed, sharp-tongued, former Iowan Christina Hixson would go on to become one of Iowa State’s top donors. Iowa State was embarking on a campaign to raise scholarships for the best and brightest of high school graduates—students with the caliber to raise the national profile of the university. Hixson had a different idea. She encouraged the university to focus less on students already at the front of the line for scholarships, and instead to support students who most needed assistance. Students like herself, who faced financial uncertainty and hardship in the quest for a college education. It was in this spirit that Iowa State’s Hixson Opportunity Awards were created in 1995 with a $5 million gift from Christina Hixson and the Lied Foundation Trust. The Hixson Awards were designed to meet the needs of first-generation college students who lacked the resources and support for higher education.
Christina M. Hixson was born on a tenant farm in northwest Missouri, the oldest of seven children. Her father departed the family when she was twelve, leaving her mother to support the family as a restaurant cook. They shared a three-room house with an outhouse in Clarinda, Iowa where Hixson worked as a waitress and cleaned chicken coops to help her family. Following high school graduation in 1944, Hixson borrowed money from an uncle to attend secretarial school and soon began working as a switchboard operator for Ernst Lied, an Omaha car dealer. When Lied required an assistant who could take dictation, Hixson moved up to that position. In 1958, Lied sold his auto dealership to begin real estate development in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hixson later joined him as his business assistant. When Lied passed away in 1980, he named Christina Hixson as the sole trustee of the foundation created in his family’s name.
Lied never offered prescribed instructions for distribution of his foundation funds, so Hixson made investments that she believed he would have chosen, focusing on buildings in Southern Nevada, Kansas, and Nebraska, states where Lied had once resided. Capitalizing on years of experience alongside land deals and business transactions, Hixson converted foundation land holdings in deals with Las Vegas casinos and other enterprises. She reinvested the foundation dollars with university libraries, fine arts centers, an organ transplant center, museums, and an indoor rain forest among other structures. The Hixson Awards at Iowa State became the first scholarship investment of the Lied Foundation but were soon followed by other scholarship programs at colleges and universities throughout the country.
Gifts to Iowa State from Christina Hixson and the Lied Foundation Trust went far beyond the initial $5 million Hixson Award scholarship. An additional $1 million was given to support Hixson Award students in the second college year which was later supplemented with cash gifts in the first, second, and third years, allowing students to receive the award for four college years. In 1998, Hixson announced a second $5 million gift expanding the Hixson Awards to a four-year scholarship program. A gift to support Hixson Award programming was provided in 2003, followed by an anchor gift for the Hixson-Lied Student Success Center in 2005. Hixson and the Lied Foundation provided a third gift to scholarships and programs in 2008 expanding the Hixson Awards to one-half of tuition and fees. This was followed with a gift to anchor the Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital at Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
The Hixson Opportunity Awards were designed as a $2,500 first-year award for one student from each of Iowa’s 99 counties, 100 total awards annually. Candidates must be eligible for admission to the university, but are those who face hardship, either personal or financial, that could prevent them from seeking a college degree. An advisory board of state educators reviews hundreds of applications each year to select students most deserving and in need of the award. Strengths-based advising and support are provided to each Hixson Scholar, enhancing and supporting their success. Iowa State’s Hixson Program is recognized in the Midwest and nationally as a model for student success, retention, and graduation rates.
For twenty years, Christina Hixson made a campus visit each fall semester to meet and welcome new recipients of the award. She regaled students with colorful stories of old Las Vegas nightlife and analogies reminding them to work hard and show gratitude for their college education. Students would line up for hours to speak individually with their benefactor, snapping photographs to send home to family. Hixson would meet patiently with every first-year student, asking them about their major and to identify their hometown on an Iowa map. She would spend even more time with the inevitable junior and senior Hixson Scholars who would stop by to say hello and share their latest accomplishments.
Christina Hixson likes to say that she opens doors. Through the Iowa State Hixson Award Program and other generous gifts, she has supported thousands of Iowans in the pursuit of a college education, through doors to opportunity.
Hixson is the recipient of numerous awards, including being named an Honorary Alumna by Iowa State University in 2006. She is a member of the Order of the Knoll W.M. Beardshear Society and resides in Las Vegas, Nev.
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