Ferdinand Thun ’56, a philanthropist, outdoorsman and former engineer whose generosity has impacted generations of Lehigh students through scholarships and an endowed chair, passed away July 30. He was 89.
Thun graduated from Lehigh in 1956 with a bachelor of science degree in metallurgical engineering and went on to earn an MBA from Harvard in 1960. He made significant contributions to Lehigh as director of planned giving in the Office of Development for over two decades, from 1973 to 1995.
Thun focused on raising scholarship support and increasing the university’s endowment to help ensure that talented students could receive a Lehigh education regardless of their ability to pay. He credited his wife, Elizabeth, with helping him develop relationships with some of Lehigh’s most generous benefactors.
In an interview with the university in 2015, Thun reflected on his commitment to helping students and the university. “The diversity of the student body is important,” he said, “and investment in the scholarship program is really needed to maintain that balance.”
Demonstrating this belief, Thun established the Ferdinand and Elizabeth M. Thun Scholarship and the Thun and Janssen Memorial Scholarship to provide support to first-generation U.S. citizens from immigrant families, regardless of their country of origin.
Lorraine Wiedorn ’84G ’13P ’17P, assistant vice president of Planned Giving and Family Philanthropy at Lehigh, said Thun was instrumental in building the university's planned giving program and was a mentor and friend to many on the Lehigh staff.
“At his core, Ferd was a teacher and he led by example,” she said. “He championed the value of endowment and the important role it plays in providing resources for our students and faculty in perpetuity. The funds from his endowed scholarships provided opportunities for many students over the years, with one scholarship recipient being named Lehigh's first Marshall scholar in 40 years. Lehigh is a better place because of Ferdinand Thun, and we will miss him terribly.”
“I always say, if you believe in something, you have to support it,” said Michael Caruso ’67, chair of the Tower Society. “That is exactly what Ferd did. He was the ultimate gentleman.”
Thun also established the Ferdinand Thun ’56 Chair in Family Business, which is held by Andreea Kiss, associate professor of management. Kiss has expressed her appreciation of the Thun family support, which she said has allowed her to expand her research and develop innovative business courses for students. She said she redesigned a course focused on entrepreneurship and innovation to include a strong component on family business innovation.
“Students are now learning about the importance of family businesses for the overall economy and about the factors that lead to their endurance, reputation and ability to blend tradition with innovation,” she said.
She said the chair also has allowed her to work on a new research project that focused on dynamics associated with new venture team formation processes particularly when these involve family members.
As a student at Lehigh, Thun was a member of Sigma Chi and Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honorary fraternity. He also served as editor of the Epitome yearbook.
After graduation, Thun joined SKF Industries as an engineer, working there for almost a decade before joining Lehigh in the Office of Development. While at the university, he helped create the Tower Society to recognize alumni and friends whose generous gifts supported the endowment program. In recognition of his decades of service, he received three prestigious awards from the university—the Paul J. Franz Award, the James Ward Packard Award, and the Alumni Award.
Thun also had a pivotal role as the president of the extended Thun family business, effectively overseeing the liquidation of the Thun Investment Company, a family enterprise that specialized in real estate and investment management.
Thun had a passion for preserving nature and wildlife and serving his community. He loved canoeing, fly fishing and sailing on his boat, Great Eagle. He served on the Boards of the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation and the Wildlands Conservancy. At the time of his death, he was emeritus director of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania.
Thun is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; his brother Peter; a niece, Kirsten Dunn, and two nephews, Eric Thun and Christopher Thun; seven grandnieces and a grandnephew. In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his sister, Katrina Thun.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023, at Crosslands, 1660 E. Street Road, Kennett Square. The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Ferdinand Thun '56 Chair in Family Business at Lehigh University or the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.