Alum gives Ursinus College $5 million

Submitted photo One of the pieces included in the art exhibition that honors the Berman Foundation gift to Ursinus College.    Françoise Gilot "Portrait of Muriel Berman with Flowers," 1970 Acrylic; Board, 52 x 39 in. n/a / P211

COLLEGEVILLE — Ursinus College has announced it has received several major donations recently, including a $5 million gift that is the single largest outright gift in the college’s 144-year history.

According to Jill Marsteller, senior vice president for advancement, the gifts came in over a period of about one week, and totaled nearly $10 million.

Schuylkill Township resident and Ursinus alum John F. “Jack” Rodenbaugh, class of 1955, and his wife, Patricia, have given the undergraduate school at Ursinus $5 million in honor of Rodenbaugh’s former economics professor.

The professor was James L. Boswell, who chaired the economics department (now the business and economics department) at Ursinus and retired in 1961.

Rodenbaugh said that when he attended Ursinus, he was a day student, commuting from Conshohocken. “I didn’t get to participate in some of the activities on campus that other students did,” he said.

Rodenbaugh said Boswell encouraged him to get his master’s at Princeton University. “He offered to help me apply for a scholarship. He just liked me and I liked him.”

Rodenbaugh was unable to move forward with his master’s because he was drafted into the military and sent to Germany to serve his country. Rodenbaugh then went on to a business career, retiring as vice president of banking, finance and economics from Merrill Lynch.

Rodenbaugh added that he wanted new generations of Ursinus students to be able “to experience the confidence-building that comes from a faculty member taking an interest in what you study, and how your life is lived.”

Rodenbaugh said the gift to the school is a thank-you to Boswell. “I feel badly that I never got back to thank Dr. Boswell. Not only was he a gentleman, but he was also a gentle man,” he said.

Marsteller said that when she found out Rodenbaugh wanted to honor his former teacher with the gift, she wasn’t surprised at all.

“Faculty student interactions here are hallmark,” she said. “People question the value of a liberal arts education today. But this is what you get at Ursinus — people who care about you over a lifetime. You take that whole person experience with you into the world.

“This pivotal gift reflects the best of our culture and the desire of a donor to pay forward his own college experience to the next generation.”

Rodenbaugh’s gift will be used for the planned Discovery and Innovation Center, an interdisciplinary center that will connect the sciences to the entire campus and its liberal arts programs. Marsteller said the project has an estimated cost of $20 million.

Another gift to Ursinus is an art collection that comes from The Berman Foundation, through its president, Nancy Berman. The collection, which had previously been on loan to the college, is now being made a permanent part of the Phillip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art, which is named in honor of Berman’s parents. The collection has an estimated value of several million dollars. The collection is the focus of an exhibition, “A to Z: Highlighting the Berman Collection,” that opens Wednesday.

Marsteller said two additional gifts were recently given to Ursinus and are relevant to students.

The college is purchasing a parcel of the Northern Star Farm and Dairy in Collegeville, owned by the Wismer family, which will be used for teaching biology and environmental science as well as interdisciplinary courses. The purchase is made possible by a gift of $225,000 by Donald Whittaker, class of 1977, along with his brother Andrew, sister Elizabeth Magrann and contributors, including Jefferies LLC, to his mother’s memorial fund.

Marsteller said Ursinus was an important part of their parents’ lives, so giving back was the perfect way for them to memorialize their late parents, Shurley Knaefler Whittaker Josephson, class of 1949, and their father, Robert L. Whittaker. In addition, Whittaker has made a pledge for the renovation of the on-site barn in memory of his late partner, Juan E. Molina.

Additionally, an entrepreneurial program called U-Innovate, was launched with the support of a gift from Will Abele, class of 1961, of Medford, N.J. As part of the three-year program, students with the best business plans will receive prizes of $7,000, $5,000 and $3,000, as well as a $500 prize for an oral presentation.

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