Dana and Lynn Roper

Dana and Lynn Roper

Lynn and Dana Roper believe sports is more than just games and contests. “In my view, sports brings people and communities together in a most divided world,” Lynn Roper said.

That belief in the power of sports and their love for good sports writing is behind the Ropers’ decision to sponsor the Roper Sports Writing Competition for students at UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Dana Roper reads the sports sections of half a dozen newspapers every day. Then he adds the sports sections of papers where something particularly interesting has happened or is about to happen—the local paper in the city that hosts the Super Bowl, for example.

His wife, Lynn, is equally enthusiastic about the topic. She grew up in a sports-loving family and married a sports-loving man. But she said she really learned the power of sports when she entered the world of financial planning.

The Ropers met in Jim Morrison’s typography class at UNL. Dana had written a sports column for his high school paper and had thought he might go into sports writing as a career, but a job as a stringer for the Omaha World-Herald during the state basketball tournament changed his mind, and he decided to go to law school instead. He spent 30 years in the Lincoln City Attorney’s office before retiring in 2008.

During her years in college, Lynn had an internship at the Des Moines Register and had considered a full-time job there after graduation in 1970—until Dana decided to attend law school at Nebraska. So she remained in Lincoln, looking for work to put her new husband through law school.

Her first interview was for a public relations position at Bryan Hospital, but the man who interviewed her told her he just didn’t need another “pushy woman” on the staff. “Having never heard that description, I became an instant feminist,” she said.

Instead, Lynn worked in public relations at the Lincoln Public Schools and then the Nebraska Department on Aging where she traveled the state interviewing older people and writing stories about them in preparation for an approaching national conference on aging. She loved the work, but it irked her that a male researcher on the staff was less productive than she but got paid more than she did.

She joined the staff of the United Way and became the first woman campaign manager in a city the size of Lincoln.

She looked around at various career opportunities and decided good salespeople were in demand. “I decided I wanted a job in sales,” she said, “because my pay would equal my hard work.”

She talked to her husband’s law school friend in Dallas who worked for Merrill Lynch, a financial services firm, and found out that the company was about to open an office in Lincoln. She knew the firm had recently lost an equal opportunity complaint brought by a woman who said she had been overlooked for a job simply because she was a woman.

“So when I interviewed for a job in the new Lincoln office, I told the guy, ‘You have to hire me,’” Lynn said with a laugh. “You need women in this office.”

That was 1977, and she thought she would give the job two years. But she climbed steadily through the ranks and is now the branch manager. She has been a portfolio manager in the personal investment advisory program since 1995 and received Merrill Lynch’s Lifetime Community Achievement Award in 2002. Barron’s magazine selected her as one of the top 1,000 financial advisers in the U.S. in 2009.

But the woman who started out as a journalist never stopped loving sports. And she found it to be a real advantage in a career field traditionally dominated by men. She could walk into any meeting and start a conversation if she could talk about Sunday’s NFL game or the baseball playoffs. “It was a real entrée and a real equalizer,” she said. “It made men immediately more comfortable since I could talk about sports.”

Furthermore, both the Ropers loved reading good sports writing. That background and a desire to find something significant and unique to support at the J school led to their establishing the Lynn and Dana Roper Sports Journalism Fund for Excellence in 2001 as a gift for their 25th wedding anniversary.

In recent years, the fund has awarded four cash prizes, ranging from $1,000 for first place to $250 for fourth place, to CoJMC students. The competition includes stories written for traditional newspapers and has been expanded to include stories written for electronic media, too.

The Ropers said they are proud of past award winners and want to continue to encourage good reporting and writing. They also see sports reporting as a growing career field. “It’s a constant,” Lynn said. “There’s always next season.”