Former instructors donate $15 million estate to Point Park University
October 8, 2014 12:29 AM
Students take a ballet class Tuesday at Point Park University’s George Rowland White Performance Center, which came into being by virtue of an earlier gift to the university. George and Kathleen White bequeathed their entire estate to Point Park.
Melanie Dalaly, center, 18, a freshman from Chicago, warms up in a jazz class at the George Rowland White Dance Center. Mr. White and his wife, Kathleen, donated their $15 million estate to Point Park University.
George Rowland White
By Bill Schackner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
George and Kathleen White never took a class at Point Park University.
In fact, neither set foot on the Downtown campus until they were in their 50s, when Mr. White moved to Pittsburgh for a job just outside the city and his wife went looking for community causes.
Nevertheless, they forged a bond with the place, built not on what it did for them in their youth, but on what it stood for to them decades later as an educational institution in the core of a city. That’s why, before their death, the couple resolved to make what the university says is the largest gift in Point Park’s history.
By the time the couple who lived Downtown decided to donate their $15 million estate to Point Park -- a sum equal to nearly half the school’s endowment — their lives had become interwoven with the university and its mission, Point Park President Paul Hennigan said.
Mr. White, a physicist, and his wife, an electrical engineer, both loved and supported the arts, and they were regulars at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, the university’s performing arts center.
They both served as adjunct instructors at Point Park and shared a fascination with business. Mr. White in particular seemed to identify with the scrappy nature of a then cash-poor campus that had been a junior college in 1960 and a business training college before that.
“As someone who was dedicated to self-improvement, I think George was drawn to what he saw as Point Park’s underdog status,” Mr. Hennigan said. “George was a believer in swinging for the fences, and he was excited for our vision of expanding our campus and programs.”
Mr. White, who died in 2012 at the age of 82, moved to Pittsburgh in the mid-1980s when Pitt hired him to direct transformation of a former industrial lab in Harmarville into the University of Pittsburgh Applied Research Center. He retired from Pitt six years later.
Soon thereafter, Mr. White was teaching an MBA-level course at Point Park and was heavily involved in its effort to develop a library center. The couple served as school trustees — Mr. White for 17 years starting in 1995, and his wife starting in 2012.
She died the following year.
By then, the Whites already were major campus donors. His name graces a campus theater, a performance center, dance studios and the George Rowland White Professor of Finance and Accounting.
Their $1 million gift established Point Park’s Urban Accounting Initiative, which encourages minorities to consider careers in those fields.
Mr. Hennigan said the bequest to the 3,700-student university will be transformational. It is nearly four times the previous record gift from an individual source — the $4 million that the R.K. Mellon Foundation put toward Point Park’s Academic Village.
The $15 million will support various endeavors, including $5 million to help move the Playhouse from Oakland to Downtown and $6 million or $7 million toward business school initiatives.
Mr. White, a native of Niagara Falls, earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees in physics respectively from Wesleyan University and Iowa State University. He received a Master’s of Business Administration from the University of California at Los Angeles, and was a prominent physicist at Sperry Rand Corp. and at Xerox, where he was vice president of research, development and engineering.
His division at Sperry was credited with discovery of a laser gyroscope still employed in aviation.
Mr. White met his wife, a graduate of Purdue University, just after college. The couple had no children.
Mr. White was a senior research fellow at Harvard Business School when he accepted the job in Pittsburgh. After arriving here, his wife approached the Negro Emergency Education Drive (NEED), which helped African-American students attend colleges including Point Park. Her involvement there got the couple looking at the campus.
The library center, which for a time also served as the Carnegie Library’s Downtown branch, may well have drawn Mr. White closer to Point Park, given his upbringing in a household that treasured reading, said his older sister, Carol Shogren of San Diego. By third grade, he had read the family’s entire 20-volume encyclopedia set.
“We were raised in a family where books were very important,” she said. “I think he became fascinated with the library.”
The school’s endowment as recently as 15 years ago was less than $6 million. Today it totals about $31 million.
The couple, who also supported other local causes including theater and opera, lived in a condominium next to what was then the Hilton Hotel. For years, they lunched every four or five weeks with Mr. Hennigan in the hotel restaurant.
“One day at lunch, it was very clear that his health was failing. He was using a walker at that point,” Mr.Hennigan said. “He told me he wanted to leave the entire estate to Point Park.”
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter @BschacknerPG.
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