In Memoriam: Katherine B. Loker, 92

USC benefactor, trustee and alumna has a ‘special place in USC history,’ says President Sample.
Pamela J. Johnson and Annette Moore

Philanthropist Katherine Bogdanovich Loker, one of USC’s most generous benefactors, has died. She was 92.

She died June 26 at her home in Oceanside, Calif., after suffering a stroke on June 21. 

Loker, a USC trustee and a 1940 graduate of the university, and her late husband, Donald, gave more than $30 million to USC — including $15 million to support hydrocarbon research in USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, $3.4 million for a new track and field stadium and $1.5 million to the USC School of Theatre.

“Katherine Bogdanovich Loker has carved for herself a very special place in USC history,” said USC President Steven B. Sample. “She and her late husband, Donald, were among USC’s most ardent and faithful supporters, enhancing the lives of so many members of the Trojan Family through their support of higher education, medical care, libraries, museums and USC athletics. 

“Personally, it was a great pleasure and privilege to work with Mrs. Loker.  She was generous with her time and talents, and I know that she will be missed by all those who knew her and who were inspired by her devotion to her alma mater.”

Loker’s support was instrumental in enabling USC chemistry professor George A. Olah to complete his research and win the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1994.

In 1977, she and her husband were the principal contributors to the establishment of a hydrocarbon research institute in USC College. In 1983, the couple also personally endowed the Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Chair in Organic Chemistry for Olah, the institute’s director, who had been recruited to USC the year the institute was founded.

When Olah learned that he had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1994, Katherine Loker was the first person he called with the news. She joined Olah at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm.

“I think Mrs. Loker is the most wonderful, generous, foresighted lady,” Olah told the press at the time. “She has supported our institute since its inception. She believes in what we are doing.”

In appreciation for their support, the institute was named the Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute in 1984. Katherine Loker subsequently provided an additional $7 million to fund the development and construction of the institute’s Katherine Bogdanovich Loker Wing.

The institute’s achievements have been published in more than a thousand scientific papers, a series of books and dozens of patents. Practical results of its research include a method to make improved high-octane unleaded gasoline in an environmentally safe way. Other patents have applications in energy, industrial chemistry and pharmaceuticals.

Loker, a founding member of the Board of Councilors of USC College and a past chair of the Loker Institute advisory board, also received a USC College Dean’s Medallion.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in English in the College in 1940.

“Katherine Loker’s generous support of the Loker Hydrocarbon Institute, of Professor Olah and his colleagues, has been one of the principal reasons why the Institute’s research continues to be some of the most exciting and important in the world today,” USC College Dean Howard Gillman said.

“She was truly passionate about the institute, and the College.  She always made it a point to attend the institute’s events, even day-long scientific conferences.  And it was a complete pleasure to talk to her after these events and hear the enthusiasm she had for the science and the scientists.”

During her undergraduate studies at USC, Loker was active in intercollegiate athletics – in particular, as a member of the track team. Her donation to the athletics department enabled the university to construct the Katherine B. Loker Track and Field Stadium. The state-of-the-art, 3,000-seat venue for track and field events opened in 2001 and is a tribute to a dominant program that has won 28 NCAA championships, 118 individual titles, 40 Olympic gold medals and 61 world records. For her support, Loker received the USC Track and Field Heritage Award.

“This is a tremendous loss,” USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett said. “Katherine Loker was part of the heart and soul of the USC athletic department.  She supported us all along and was such a positive influence on everyone involved in Trojan athletics.  She was a deserving inductee into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame and her memory will live on forever with the Katherine B. Loker Track and Field Stadium. She was a wonderful person and we will miss her dearly.”

Loker, born in San Pedro, married Donald P. Loker (d. 1988) shortly after graduation from USC. He was a well-known actor under the screen name of Don Terry. After serving in World War II, Donald Loker became a vice president of the StarKist Foods Company, founded by Katherine Loker’s  father in 1917.

For her exceptional contributions through the research of the Loker Institute and other activities, she received an honorary doctorate from USC in 1997. In 2000, Loker was elected an honorary member of the USC Board of Trustees. Last year, Loker won USC’s highest honor, the Presidential Medallion.

Her many other university honors include the Asa V. Call Award, the USC Alumni Association’s highest honor, as well as an Alumni Merit Award; and a Raubenheimer Award from the USC College. She was a Presidential Associate, a life member of Town & Gown and a member of the San Diego Trojan League.

Loker also had served as a trustee and foundation member of the California Science Center in Los Angeles, a foundation board member of the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, a life member of the advisory board of California State University, Dominguez Hills, and a founding member of the Los Angeles Music Center.

She was an active supporter of the Donald P. Loker Cancer Treatment Center at the California Hospital Medical Center, Los Angeles. She also served on the Committee on University Resources at Harvard University, receiving the Harvard Medal in 1995.

Loker is survived by daughters Deborah Hicks and Katherine Leahy.

A funeral mass will be held Thursday, July 3, at 10:30 a.m. at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Pedro.