Longtime West Virginia philanthropist Milan "Mike" Puskar, who turned an idea for a pharmaceutical company into one of the largest generic drug manufacturers in the nation, died Friday night of cancer. He was 77.
Mr. Puskar, the co-founder of Mylan Labs and namesake of West Virginia University's Milan Puskar Stadium, was responsible for the single largest gift in the school's history.
Mr. Puskar had been in failing health and was honored before the Mountaineers' Sept. 24 game against Louisiana State University.
Ed Pastilong, the former athletic director at WVU, said Mr. Puskar will be remembered before today's game against the University of Connecticut.
"I can remember driving back from Charleston and getting a phone call from Mike asking me to stop by his office," Mr. Pastilong said. "He indicated that he really liked the concept of endowing scholarships and he wanted to kick it off with a $1 million contribution."
He eventually donated $20 million in 2003, earmarking $14.5 million to athletics.
Douglas Leech, founder and chairman of Centra Bank and a longtime friend, said Mr. Puskar grew up in Hubbard, Ohio, across the river from Sharon, Pa.
"He was the son of Serbian immigrants," said Mr. Leech. "His parents had a little tavern where he worked after school. He attended Youngstown State University, but he was always a fan of WVU."
Mr. Puskar served in the Korean War where, during a cold winter, he and fellow serviceman Don Panoz struck up the idea of starting a drug company after the war. Mr. Leech said they started it in a roller rink in Lewisburg, W.Va.
Later, as the company grew, Mr. Puskar moved the operation to Morgantown. Today, Mylan, a Fortune 500 company with headquarters in Canonsburg, Pa., still has a factory in Morgantown, where Mr. Puskar lived.
"He did it because he was a fan of WVU," said Mr. Leech, who serves on the Mylan board of directors. "That's the reason Mylan is in Morgantown."
Mr. Puskar was the company chairman from 1993 to 2009, when he retired. He also served as president for 25 years.
"He touched thousands of people's lives," Mr. Leach said. "There wasn't much going on that Mike didn't help or try to insert himself into, because he was such a teacher.
"He gave me the confidence to know that I could actually start a bank. I can't tell you the businesses he got started, not just with money but by the nod he gave someone, the bits and pieces of advice and encouragement.
"His fingerprints are all over West Virginia. Every time you see something named for him there are dozens of anonymous gifts and things he did for people."
West Virginia President James Clements said the Mountaineer family has lost a generous friend.
"Because of his success in the business world, he was able to help so many others, and he took great pride and care in his generosity to West Virginia University," said Mr. Clements in a statement.
"His gifts came in the form of scholarships for students, funds for WVU athletics, support for cancer research and many other endeavors."
Bob Bell, a Morgantown businessman and former county commissioner, said "you cannot measure what he has done and what he has given to this community.
"He's put hundreds of people to work with good jobs, and he cared about his employees."
Mr. Bell said Mr. Puskar's generosity extended to politicians, including Sen. Joe Manchin, the former governor, who was a longtime friend. But there was never a sense of obligation involved.
"He supported most politicians. Any politician who went to him, he always had a donation," Mr. Bell said. "But it was because he wanted them to succeed. If guys had good ideas, he supported them."
Longtime employee Martha Kerr, 68, described Mr. Puskar as a humble man who was well-liked by his employees. She said he visited Mylan on Monday and told the employees they were responsible for the company's success.
"You just don't find people like that anymore," Ms. Kerr said.
Mr. Puskar was married and divorced twice.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete.
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed. Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.