Lehigh receives largest gift in its history

Calling it an “historic, transformational moment that will mean so much, to so many, for so long,” Lehigh President Alice P. Gast Friday accepted a record $34.2 million gift on behalf of the university from the estate of alumnus Donald B. Stabler ’30.

The bequest, which is the largest single gift in Lehigh’s history, will enable the Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Endowed Scholarship Fund to provide generations of students the opportunity to attend Lehigh—regardless of their financial circumstances.

“Because this gift is to endow scholarships in perpetuity, the Stablers’ generosity makes it possible for countless students to have the financial support that provides access to a Lehigh education,” Gast told a standing-room-only crowd representing the entire Lehigh community during the noon announcement ceremony in the Rotunda of Linderman Library.

“This gift will enable deserving young people who could only dream of studying at Lehigh to realize these dreams,” she added. “Most importantly, armed with what they learn at Lehigh, Stabler Scholars will make a discernible difference in the world.”

As alumni, trustees, university leaders, faculty, staff and students applauded and cheered, Cyril C. Dunmire, Jr., who succeeded Stabler as chairman, CEO and treasurer of Stabler Companies Inc., presented Gast an oversized check for $34.2 million.

The amount was a closely guarded secret leading up to the announcement, and when Dunmire finally revealed it, the crowd responded with gasps, “ooohs” and “aaaahs.”

Both balconies overlooking the Rotunda were packed with onlookers, and the crowd jammed into the room and spilled out into the lobby. The enthusiastic turnout braved heavy rains to hear the news.

As Daniel E. Smith Jr. ’71, chairman of the Lehigh University Board of Trustees, put it in his introduction: “It’s a very auspicious occasion. It’s so auspicious that no amount of inclement weather can serve to dampen it in any way, shape or form.”

“The amazing gift of a Lehigh education”

Referring to Stabler, Dunmire said: “He believed in the power of education, and that each generation should extend a helping hand to those that followed. He and Mrs. Stabler lived this ideal through their personal giving and through the work of the Stabler Foundation.”

The Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Endowed Scholarship Fund was established by the Stablers in 1965, “to give students the amazing gift of a Lehigh education,” Dunmire said.

Through the decades, the scholarship fund has helped some 250 students attend Lehigh. Currently, there are 32 Stabler Scholars at Lehigh.

“We believe we’ll be able to double or triple the number of current Stabler Scholars,” Gast said during a press conference following the announcement. That means 60 to 90 current students will now benefit from the need-based scholarship, the amount of which varies depending on a student’s financial circumstances.
“Interestingly, the Stabler Scholars are very much like Mr. Stabler himself,” Gast said. “They come from modest means. They’re diligent in their academic pursuits. And they apply their Lehigh education to becoming successful in their careers and important contributors to society.”

In addition to the Stabler Endowed Scholarship Fund, Donald Stabler and his wife, the former Dorothy L. Witwer, whom he married in 1952, funded the Stabler Teaching Award and the Dorothy L. Stabler Tower Room of Iacocca Hall on Lehigh’s Mountaintop Campus. They were also the lead donors to the Stabler Athletic and Convocation Center, dedicated in December 1979. The facility, one of the largest of its kind in the East when it was built, provides a venue for athletic events, graduations, reunions, and entertainment for both Lehigh University and residents of the Lehigh Valley.

“During their lifetime and through the Stabler Foundation, they have given Lehigh a total of $42 million,” Gast said.

During the press conference, Gast said the total amount given by the Stablers is comparable to the $500,000 given by Lehigh founder Asa Packer in 1865. Although it’s difficult to make a precise estimate, she said, the amount donated by Packer would be in the neighborhood of $40 million today.

A life dedicated to leadership and service

Dunmire recalled Stabler as someone who “dedicated his life to leadership and service, and had a powerful work ethic. Tough-minded, but willing to listen, he was demanding of others, but even more demanding of himself. He credited Lehigh with giving him the ability to learn, and to think."

Stabler was a member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees for more than 30 years, serving as a corporate member and as a chairman of the Development Committee. During his two-year term as president of Lehigh’s alumni association, he traveled almost 20,000 miles to visit 30 alumni clubs, more than any other alumni president.

And, Gast quipped in remarks at a luncheon following the announcement, “that was in the period before frequent flyer miles.”

In 1972, he received the New York Alumni Club’s prestigious “L-in-Life Award.” Stabler earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1930 and a master’s in civil engineering in 1932, both from Lehigh. As a Lehigh student, he was involved in wrestling, the student branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers, honorary fraternity Pi Delta Epsilon, the Freshman Handbook, the Lehigh Review, and the Senior Cabinet.

After graduation, Stabler worked with a Harrisburg, Pa., contractor for $15 a week. In 1940, with just $1,300 in savings, he founded the Stabler Construction Company in Harrisburg. The company grew into Stabler Companies Inc., which included 13 subsidiaries involved in businesses such as highway construction; quarrying of stone, sand, and gravel; bituminous and Portland cement concrete manufacturing; the manufacture, sale, and servicing of highway safety equipment; and real estate development.