Dietrich gives $25 million gift to Thiel

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The largesse from the late multi-millionaire steel executive William S. Dietrich II is nearly complete.

Officials at Thiel College in Greenville said Friday that they were the latest recipients of a donation from Mr. Dietrich, receiving $25 million from him. It is by far the single-largest contribution in the 145-year-old college's history, and equal to the annual budget of the college with 1,100 students.

"It's one of those types of blessings you get every now and then in higher education -- although never of this size at Thiel," said Troy VanAken, president of Thiel, which is where Mr. Dietrich's parents met when they were in school there.

After Thiel, though, there is only one donation from Mr. Dietrich that has yet to be announced, said Dick Berdik, chief financial officer for the Dietrich Charitable Trusts, and it is not clear when or if that will be revealed.

With the donation to Thiel, over the past two months a total of $425.6 million has been announced as donations from Mr. Dietrich: $265 million to Carnegie Mellon University; $125 million to the University of Pittsburgh; $12.5 million to Duquesne University, $10.6 million to the Pittsburgh Foundation, $2.5 million to the town of Conneaut Lake, and $5 million each to the town of Greenville, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Boy Scouts, Chatham University, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Heinz History Center.

While he allowed Pitt and CMU to announce his contributions to them in the weeks before his death, institutions like Thiel were asked to not speak of it publicly until after he died, Mr. Berdik said.

Each institution was allowed to decide on its own when and if it would announce the gifts, he said.

The money is not "cash-in-hand," as Mr. VanAken put it.

Instead, the amount donated refers to the present value of a chunk of Mr. Dietrich's trust that will be held and nurtured by the trust, with a percentage given to each institution annually. Depending on how well the funds are invested, the value of the original donation amount could grow over time, and the annual distributions could grow, too.

Mr. VanAken said Thiel officials have estimated that the donation could mean the college could have another $750,000 to spend annually in three years.

While the $25 million Thiel got is far less than Mr. Dietrich gave to CMU or Pitt, it's roughly equal to Thiel's annual budget and more than its entire $20 million endowment.

"When I was at the announcement of his gift to CMU [in September], I told Bill that while his gift to CMU was the largest in its history, and his gift to Pitt was the largest in its history, his gift to Thiel will have every bit as big an impact given the size of the institution," said Mr. VanAken, who has known of the gift since the beginning of the year.

Mr. Dietrich, 73, died Oct. 6 after a long bout with cancer.

He gave the donation to Thiel for the simple reason that his parents, Kenneth and Marianna, met and then graduated from Thiel, Mr. Berdik said.

Kenneth Dietrich, who served on Thiel's board of trustees from 1978 to 1984, founded the business that became Dietrich Industries, which his son grew into a national corporation.

His parents "had been fond of the school and felt it provided them with a good education," Mr. Berdik said. "And Bill thought the gift would have a sizable impact on Thiel."

Mr. Dietrich had been talking to university officials about making a donation in the years before Mr. VanAken became president in 2009, and in the years since he and Mr. Dietrich spoke numerous times about the impact it could have and what it might be used for.

Mr. VanAken said the money "couldn't have come at a better time. We're doing strategic planning, and our new student enrollment is up 35 percent since 2009."

Exactly what Thiel's money from Mr. Dietrich will be used for won't be revealed until Feb. 11, 2012, when the college holds its first Winter Weekend, which will double as a celebration of Mr. Dietrich's gift.

"Ultimately, he wanted to honor his parents," Mr. VanAken said. "He thought education was a good investment."

Sean D. Hamill: or 412-263-2579


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