June 4, 2024

The impact of a great teacher goes on. So does the gratitude of his students. 

Jerome (Jerry) Kesselman came to DU’s Accountancy Department in 1946 and last taught a course more than two decades ago. During his tenure he achieved near legendary status for his teaching, his passion for accounting and professional ethics, and his commitment to DU and his students – a number of whom considered themselves members of the Kesselman family. Today, twenty-four years after Jerry Kesselman’s death and fourteen years after the creation of endowed funds in his name, former students, colleagues, and members of the accounting profession continue honoring his legacy through gifts to the Kesselman scholarship funds. 

How did a teacher generate so much respect and affection on the part of his students, the DU campus, and the larger Denver community? And how did his life inspire so many others to give in his memory? The answer is difficult to gauge from the biographical facts alone: Jerry Kesselman was born in 1916, received a BS in Accounting (’36) and MBA in Economics (’38) from the University of Kansas, and served as a captain in the Merchant Marine during World War II., After the war, he and his wife settled in Denver, and following a short stint in private practice, Jerry joined DU’s business school faculty and also taught at the law school following earning his JD from DU in 1952. Outside the classroom, Kesselman served on numerous departmental and university committees, was a tax expert on KRMA TV Channel 6, assistant to the Chancellor for budgetary matters, expert witness, and board member for multiple organizations including Rodef Shalom synagogue. He retired in 1993 and that same year received an honorary doctorate from DU. 

By any measure, that’s a remarkably notable career, but what made Jerry Kesselman iconic in DU history goes far beyond biographical facts. For example, his passion for instilling ethics in accounting – he taught a professional ethics course from his first year at DU – helped pave the way for Daniels to become a pioneer in bringing ethical perspectives to business education. A passionate and engaging lecturer whose students said, “he made accounting interesting,” Jerry was named DU’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 1963 and influenced the lives and careers of scores of students, among them, Krishen Mehta.  

Mehta came to the US as a visiting secondary school student at age 16, when he stayed for a few days with the Kesselman family and later, as an MBA student in accounting and finance, lived with them, becoming especially close with the Kesselman children, son Neil and his late sister JoAnn. A former School of Accountancy Alumnus of the Year in 1972, today Mehta is Senior Global Justice Fellow at Yale University, serves as a Non-Executive Director of the Tax Justice Network based in London, and is the Founder/Director of Asia Initiatives, a nonprofit that leverages social capital to promote women’s empowerment in Asia and Africa, and a trustee of DU’s Korbel School.  

Honoring Jerry Kesselman as both a teacher and mentor, Krishen endowed scholarships in the names of Jerry (2011) and Fern Kesselman (2014) at the School of Accountancy to which Neil and his wife Carol have also contributed generously – as have many other accounting alumni who, years later, wax lyrical about Kesselman’s influence. So does Sharon S. Lassar, PhD, CPA, the John J. Gilbert Chair of the Accounting Department. “Jerry inspired students to pursue a PhD so that they could follow in his footsteps and advance accounting theory,” Sharon recounts. “One of those – Bob Swieringa – earned a PhD at the University of Illinois and after 10 years of teaching and research at Cornell, joined the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) because of his love for studying practice issues through an academic lens, something clearly inspired by Jerry. Other of Jerry’s students went on to earn a PhD and two even returned to DU as faculty members – the late Jim Sorenson and now retired F. Lee Pollart.” 

“The never-to-be-forgotten Dr. Jerome Kesselman was an absolute legend at the school even then,” claimed Dan Chenoweth (BSAcc ‘73). Heidi O’Neil (BSAcc ’85) began pursuing a general business degree and took her first two accounting courses with Kesselman, who advised her that a career in accounting was her true calling. “I took his advice and the rest is history,” wrote O’Neill, currently Director of Accounting at the Denver International Airport. 

The Jerry Kesselman Endowed Scholarship Fund supports undergraduate accounting students and is based on academic merit and need. Similarly, the Fern Kesselman Endowed Scholarship Fund provides scholarship support to deserving accounting majors. One recent awardee, Holly Trujillo (BSAcc ’23), wrote that “Receiving the Kesselman scholarship provided financial support during my time at DU – invaluable in that it allowed me to pay for school, the opportunity to not worry about finances, and that it is more than financial support. When I met Neil and Carol, it was empowering to feel the love and support they have for DU students. I am grateful for their generosity and that they are part of the DU network.” 

Neil Kesselman, a retired pediatrician, remarks that the impact of his and Carol’s gifts to the Kesselman Scholarship Endowment has been especially rewarding and echoes Holly Trujillo, agreeing that it’s “a wonderful experience to also meet the recipients.” That “wonderful experience” is something that began with Jerry Kesselman’s extraordinary teaching, was manifest in his fulfilling personal life and community engagement, and continues to be cherished and paid back by scores of appreciative DU alumni, friends, and not least, family.