Lucas gives Board business background

New appointee Lucas is passionate for philanthropy and the University.

University regent Peggy Lucas at McNamara Alumni Center on Wednesday morning. Lucas joined the Board of Regents this summer.

Chelsea Gortmaker

University regent Peggy Lucas at McNamara Alumni Center on Wednesday morning. Lucas joined the Board of Regents this summer.

Meghan Holden

Though Peggy Lucas is one of the newest appointees to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, she’s no stranger to the school.

Lucas met her husband, David Lucas, on a blind date at the University nearly 50 years ago. Since then, the pair said the institution has been a large part of their family’s life.

“She seemed like a natural fit to become a regent,” David Lucas said. “I don’t think very many candidates could offer her insight into the University.”

Last spring, state legislators chose Lucas to represent the Fifth Congressional District on the board. Though the position is new to her, Lucas has had a long history with the University.

“She’s an interesting person with a lot of life experience,” Regent Chair Richard Beeson said. “All those attributes are helpful and necessary in being a successful contributor to the board.”

After working on University policies for more than six months on the Board, Lucas said she agrees with President Eric Kaler’s cuts to administrative spending, but the institution must balance excellence and running a “lean machine.”

“We’re the only research university in Minnesota; we need to be really good,” she said, noting that continued funding is key to keeping that standard.

Besides working to resolve issues with the University’s budget, Lucas said she’s interested in pushing collaboration between the University and area neighborhoods.

Working with the neighborhoods would create a safer environment, which is vital for students, she said.

“She’s always had this passion for trying to help people with basic needs and helping make a difference in the community that way,” said Lucas’ son Brian Lucas.

Before moving to the United States nearly six decades ago, Peggy Lucas was a Chinese refugee during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

After graduating, Peggy and David Lucas joined the Peace Corps, where she worked at an orphanage and a nursing school in Iran during the Vietnam War.

Peggy Lucas co-founded Brighton Development Corporation, a local urban housing and redevelopment firm, more than three decades ago. With the role, she has tackled projects and sat on a number of committees within the Minneapolis community.

“If you’re in the housing development business, you always have to have your eye on a goal,” said Dick Brustad, Lucas’ co-partner at the firm. “I think that’s a tremendous skill she has.”

He said her ability to weigh high-risk decisions will benefit the board.

“I think Peggy Lucas will bring a lot to the board in that she’s had tremendous business experience,” Regent Linda Cohen said.

The idea for Brighton came to Lucas while serving on the housing committee for the League of Women Voters Minneapolis. Lucas said she created the company to alleviate the city’s affordable housing problem. But her time with Brighton is slowly wrapping up, she said, allowing her more time to focus on her regency.

She has also chaired the University Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics Advisory Council, and she has served on the University of Minnesota Foundation, the dean’s advisory council for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the UMore Park Board of Governors.

“She knows the players,” Beeson said. “She has that respect that was earned through being a supporter and a booster and an alum.”

Brian Lucas, senior director of communications for the University’s Academic Health Center, said he was surprised when he learned his mother was running for the board position last spring but didn’t doubt she could take on the challenge.

“I’m still in learning phase, and I’m sure I will be for quite a while,” Peggy Lucas said. “It’s a big, complicated place.”

Lucas represents the district that includes the University and a majority of Hennepin County. She won the spot in a tight race against New Asia Partners co-founder Dennis Nguyen last legislative session.

The state Legislature chooses one regent from each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts and four from the state at-large. One of the at-large regents must be a student.

Colleagues and family agreed Lucas’ love for the University and desire for its success makes her a perfect fit for the position.

“You can go around department by department, school by school through the University and see how it touches people’s lives,” Brian Lucas said, “and I think that’s what appeals to her.”