Pitt to Receive $125 Million Gift From Alumnus, Trustee, and Former Board Chair William S. Dietrich II

Issue Date: 
September 26, 2011
From left, N. John Cooper, the Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean of Arts and Sciences at Pitt; William S. Dietrich II, highly respected business leader, philanthropist, and Pitt alumnus, Trustee, and former Board chairperson; and Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. The 100-foot-by-48-foot banner behind them was unfurled Sept. 23 from the fifth to 16th floors of the Cathedral of Learning’s Fifth Avenue elevation. From left, N. John Cooper, the Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean of Arts and Sciences at Pitt; William S. Dietrich II, highly respected business leader, philanthropist, and Pitt alumnus, Trustee, and former Board chairperson; and Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. The 100-foot-by-48-foot banner behind them was unfurled Sept. 23 from the fifth to 16th floors of the Cathedral of Learning’s Fifth Avenue elevation.

The University of Pittsburgh announced Sept. 22 that well-known and highly respected business leader, investor, author, and philanthropist William S. Dietrich II plans to make an historic gift of a $125 million fund in support of the University. This is the largest individual gift to Pitt in its 225-year history and is one of the 10 largest gifts made by an individual to a public university in the United States. The fund will become operational upon Mr. Dietrich’s passing.

Mr. Dietrich earned both his M.A. and his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Pittsburgh. He has been a member of Pitt’s Board of Trustees since 1991 and served as the Board’s chairperson from 2001 to 2003. He also has served as the chair of the Board’s Audit, Investment, and Conflict of Interest committees.

The first public recognition of his gift occurred Sept. 24 at Heinz Field during Pitt’s football game against Notre Dame. The gift takes the University’s $2 billion “Building Our Future Together” capital campaign past the $1.85 billion mark.

In announcing this historic gift, University Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg stated, “While this has been a rather closely held secret, those already aware of this gift have been overwhelmed by the magnitude of Bill Dietrich’s generosity, and beginning today, the feelings of excitement and gratitude that his gift has triggered will spread far more broadly. There also is something special about receiving such an extraordinary gift from one of Pitt’s favorite people. Speaking personally, Bill has been both a good friend and an inspiring role model to me. Within our Board he is known for his focused commitment to academic excellence, and within the broader community of business and civic leaders, he is known as a person who will tirelessly undertake virtually any assignment if it will contribute to the betterment of our home region.”

In commenting on this gift, Mr. Dietrich said, “I am making this investment in the University of Pittsburgh for a number of reasons. As a graduate who personally benefited from my own studies at Pitt, I want to ensure that the University can continue to provide educational opportunities of the highest quality to its undergraduate and graduate students. As a citizen of Southwestern Pennsylvania, I want to help secure the future of one of this region’s most important institutions and hope that this gift will encourage others to join with me in supporting the University. And as someone who has seen Pitt’s transformation into a national and international force in higher education from the special vantage point of a Trustee, I want to recognize the extraordinary progress that has been made by the University, particularly during Mark Nordenberg’s 16-year tenure as Chancellor.”

In recognition of this gift, a resolution will be introduced at the Oct. 28 meeting of Pitt’s Board of Trustees to name the University’s School of Arts and Sciences the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences in honor of Mr. Dietrich’s father. The School of Arts and Sciences sits at the heart of the University’s academic programs and provides instruction in the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences for all students studying on the University’s Pittsburgh campus. This includes more than 10,000 undergraduate students pursuing majors or certificates in the nearly 50 departments and programs of the School. The School also is home to the largest graduate program in Pittsburgh and to Pitt’s College of General Studies, one of the region’s leading providers of adult education programs.

The many distinguished graduates of the School include:

Herbert W. Boyer, who earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in the biological sciences from the School and went on to receive numerous national and international awards for his pioneering work in genetic engineering, including both the 1989 National Medal of Technology and the 1990 National Medal of Science;

Michael W. Chabon, who earned his B.A. in English Writing from the School and, among many honors for his works, received the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay;

Paul C. Lauterbur, who earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the School and received the 2003 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his contributions to the development of magnetic resonance imaging;

Wangari Muta Maathai, who earned her M.S. in the biological sciences from the School and was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her environmental and human rights work in her native Kenya; and

Bert W. O’Malley, who earned his B.S. from the School, in addition to his M.D. from Pitt’s School of Medicine, and received the 2007 National Medal of Science in recognition of his work as the “father” of molecular endocrinology.

The School is home to many departments and programs of distinction. Faculty of the School regularly receive the highest forms of national and international recognition, and its students regularly compete with the strongest students from the country’s finest universities for the highest national honors.

In praising Mr. Dietrich for his support, N. John Cooper, the Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean of Arts and Sciences at Pitt, said, “The arts and sciences are at the core of any great contemporary university. This transformative gift from Mr. Dietrich will let us advance our goal of being a world-recognized center for the generation of knowledge by our faculty, within and across disciplines, and for transmitting that knowledge to succeeding generations of undergraduates and graduate students.”

Pitt Trustee Eva Tansky Blum, who earned her undergraduate degree in political science from what will be known as the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and who later earned her law degree from Pitt, serves as cochair of the University’s capital campaign. In commenting on this record-setting gift from her fellow Board member, she said, “Our capital campaign is helping to propel Pitt forward by providing the resources it needs to solidify its place among the world’s most respected universities. We cannot even begin to imagine the extent of the good that will come from Bill’s magnificent gift, but we know that it will enhance countless individual lives while also strengthening the fabric of our home community and the broader society.”

A Legacy of Business Success, Community Impact, and Uncommon Generosity

After graduating from Princeton University in 1960, Mr. Dietrich served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves before joining Dietrich Industries, Inc., the company founded by his father. Mr. Dietrich assumed responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the company in the mid-1960’s and in the process transformed Dietrich Industries from a small steel warehouse and distribution business into the nation’s largest manufacturer of light metal framing for the construction industry. In 1996, Worthington Industries bought Dietrich Industries and asked Mr. Dietrich to remain as a director, a position he held until his retirement in 2008.

It was while he was leading Dietrich Industries through a period of significant growth that Mr. Dietrich earned his graduate degrees from the University. A student of both history and international economics, he is a regular contributor to the Pittsburgh Quarterly. Mr. Dietrich also is the author of two books: In the Shadow of the Rising Sun: The Political Roots of American Economic Decline, published in 1991 by the Penn State University Press, and Eminent Pittsburghers: Profiles of the City’s Founding Industrialists, a collection of biographical essays published in 2011 by Taylor Trade Publishing. He is in the process of writing a third book, American Recessional: The U.S. Decline and the Rise of China.

Mr. Dietrich is well known for his wide-ranging civic commitments. In addition to his service on the University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees, he has served on the Boards of Carnegie Mellon University, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Chatham University, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the Pittsburgh Symphony Society, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Growth Alliance, the UPMC Health System, and the Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Current Pitt Board Chair Stephen R. Tritch noted, “Bill is an Eagle Scout and has often stated that Scouting had a lasting impact on his life. Certainly, that is seen in his unfailing willingness to lend a helping hand to others, through his philanthropy and through the many community leadership responsibilities he has discharged so effectively.”

A hallmark of Mr. Dietrich’s life will be his exceptional, and exceptionally well-targeted, philanthropy. The source of the fund that will benefit the University of Pittsburgh is The Dietrich Charitable Trusts, which are charitable remainder trusts created by Mr. Dietrich that own assets principally generated by the 1996 sale of Dietrich Industries. It is anticipated that upon Mr. Dietrich’s passing, the assets of these trusts will fund a new charitable organization, The Dietrich Foundation, which will administer the fund benefitting Pitt.

A Good Man

Born on June 17, 1907, Kenneth P. Dietrich married Marianna Brown in 1933. The two had met while enrolled as students at Thiel College in Greenville, Pa. The couple began their lives together in Pittsburgh and had two children, William and Linda.

Ken Dietrich started his career at Diamond Alkali Company. An outstanding salesman, he was rapidly promoted to merchandising manager, one of the top 10 positions in that company. In 1940, Ken became the president of Hood Chemical Company, moving that firm from New York to Pittsburgh. In 1947, he stepped down as president and moved his family to Conneaut Lake, Pa., where they briefly owned and operated the Iroquois Hotel. In 1959, he returned to industry, starting a small lumber business near Blairsville, Pa.  That company would grow to become Dietrich Industries, Inc.

Mr. Dietrich remembers his father as a good golfer, a good card player, a good dancer, and, most important, as a good man. He recalls that his father had a great sense of humor, played the ukulele, and appeared in amateur theatricals. Describing his father, Mr. Dietrich has said “He was born to be a salesman, and he was a very good one.” Kenneth P. Dietrich passed away on March 4, 1984, at the age of 77. He was preceded in death by Marianna, who died in 1983, shortly before the two would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Earlier this month, Carnegie Mellon University announced that it would name its College of Humanities and Social Sciences the Marianna Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Mr. Dietrich has said that he is moved by the thought of his father and mother eternally looking at each other lovingly across Panther Hollow from the Pitt and CMU schools that will bear their names.