Million-Dollar Gifts Recognized at all Four-Year Pitt Campuses

All Four-Year Pitt Campuses Receive Million Dollar Gifts.
Every University of Pittsburgh campus relies on philanthropic support

One of the things that makes the University of Pittsburgh stand out from its peers is that students have the opportunity to choose among several campuses, each providing a world-class education in slightly different learning environments. The University also prides itself on the commitment its donors have in ensuring Pitt’s future and those of its students.

Earlier this summer, those points of pride came together to highlight why so many have found a home at the University and continue to say “Hail to Pitt” long after they graduate.

Pitt recently welcomed 35 individuals and families into two of its most prestigious giving recognition circles: the Cathedral of Learning Society, which recognizes those who have given more than $1 million to the University over their lifetimes, and the Brackenridge Circle, which recognizes those who have made planned gifts and pledges totaling $1 million. Among this year’s inductees were donors that focus their philanthropy on each of the University’s four-year campuses.

George and the late Marion Chambers have long been supporters of a variety of efforts on the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Campus. Dr. Chambers was president of the campus from 1980 to 1997. Over those years, he transformed the campus from a two-year commuter school that sent its students to Pittsburgh for their junior and senior years, to the four-year residential campus it is today. “Ninety percent of the infrastructure you see today was built under my tenure,” he said. “So I’m no stranger to the importance of fundraising.”  

Dr. Chambers says he tries to do as much as he can financially for the University and has included the campus in his will. His gifts have established a scholarship in his name, helped to convert an old lecture hall into a theater, and supported the construction of the campus library.

“I’ve been involved in so many things it is hard to pick one as a favorite,” Dr. Chambers said.

Former Pitt-Greensburg President Dr. George Chambers
Former Pitt-Greensburg President Dr. George Chambers. 

Some 150 miles to the north of Greensburg, the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford is also growing and thriving with help from an active former president, Richard McDowell, who retired from the presidency in 2002. Like Dr. Chambers, Dr. McDowell oversaw Pitt-Bradford’s transition from a two-year campus to a four-year institution.

“If there is anything I can do to help grow the local community, strengthen Pitt-Bradford, and support our students, I’m going to do it,” Dr. McDowell said. That includes making strategic donations to the University. 

Dr. McDowell says it was clear the region was in need of a technology curriculum to round out Pitt-Bradford’s liberal arts offerings, so he decided to focus some of his philanthropy on a Computer Information Systems and Technology program.

He and his wife Ruth made an endowed gift to help jump start the program, which then, he says, prompted others to make similar gifts.

“I’m impressed by how quickly the program has grown and the quality of students it has attracted,” Dr. McDowell said. “Even if someday there is no need for a computer technology program, the money will still be there to help fill the next need.”

Among those who made $1 million-plus commitments to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown was Douglas Reid Weimer (A&S ’75). Doug left Pennsylvania for a career as a lawyer for several federal governmental entities including the Departments of Education and Agriculture. His career also included more than 32 years as a legislative attorney at the Library of Congress, serving as counsel to Committees and Members of Congress. Now that he is retired, Doug keeps homes in both Washington, D.C. and Somerset, PA, and now sits on the Pitt-Johnstown Board of Advisors.

“Our family’s involvement with Pitt-Johnstown began in the late 1960s when my parents, representing the Rockwood School District, attended meetings concerning the expansion of UPJ,” Doug said. He established the Reid A. Weimer Memorial Scholarship and the Reid A. and Thelma Lint Weimer Memorial Scholarship in honor of his parents. Both scholarships help education majors at Pitt-Johnstown. His estate will create the Weimer Endowed Term Professorship, which will support a position in the Pitt-Johnstown Education Division.

Doug says he received his strong commitment to “give back” to his community and his school from his parents who employed the ideals as guiding principles.

Former Pitt-Bradford President Richard McDowell greats students at the dedication of a new residence hall.
Former Pitt-Bradford President Dr. Richard McDowell greats students at the dedication of a new residence hall

There were several individuals and families who made gifts to programs on the Pittsburgh campus who were also recognized during the 2018 Cathedral of Learning Society and Brackenridge Circle events. Among them were Tom and Bonnie VanKirk. 

In recent years, Tom and Bonnie have focused their philanthropic support on the University’s School of Social Work, where the couple established the VanKirk Career Center Endowment and the Thomas L. and Bonnie W. VanKirk Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship supports master’s-level students pursuing a certificate in integrated health care.

When he learned that this year’s list of Brackenridge and Cathedral of Learning inductees included donors to all of Pitt’s four-year campuses, George Chambers was prompted to think about the impact each donor has on the University and how important each campus is to the larger institution.

“Pitt has an advantage that most universities don’t,” he said. “You have one big university where you can do the most advanced graduate work imaginable, and with the regional campuses you can learn in a small liberal arts setting that is as nice as any college in the country. Most universities can’t say that.”

Follow this link to read more stories from this issue of the Chancellor's Circle Update.