MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A first-generation college student and the son of a coal miner, Ben Statler said he always viewed his West Virginia University degree as more than a line on his resume.
It was "the foundation of much of what I've been able to accomplish," said Mr. Statler, 56, a former executive with Consolidation Coal Co.
Yesterday, he and his wife, Jo, expressed their gratitude by donating $25 million to WVU -- the largest gift in the university's 140-year history.
The bulk of the donation to be made over the next several years -- $20 million -- will go toward health sciences programs, the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and a new scoreboard for the WVU Coliseum.
Another $5 million from the couple, who live in Naples, Fla., and Peters in Washington County, Pa., will support the comprehensive breast cancer program at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center. A major portion will be used to purchase a mobile digital mammography unit, which will be called "Bonnie's Bus" to honor the memory of Jo Statler's mother, who died in 1992 of breast cancer.
Two new faculty research positions also will be created.
"We hope that we can save lots of women from going through what my mom went through," said Mrs. Statler, 55, a former employee in the WVU dental school.
The state of West Virginia will provide $2.5 million in matching funds for cancer research.
About 90 private gifts of at least $100 million have been made by organizations and individuals to higher education during the last four decades, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The WVU gift ranks among the largest made by individuals to a major research school in the region.
At Carnegie Mellon University, Wall Street investor David A. Tepper and his wife, Marlene, donated $55 million to the business school. The University of Pittsburgh received a $20 million grant from Henry Hillman, his family and his foundations to create The Hillman Fellows Program for Innovative Cancer Research.
Yesterday's announcement drew a standing ovation from about 300 employees and other guests at the WVU Health Sciences Center auditorium. Joining the donors were Mike Garrison, who will be inaugurated tomorrow as WVU's 22nd president, and Scot Remick, director of the cancer center.
"This is truly a life-changing gift," Mr. Garrison said. "It will profoundly change the lives of so many who come through this university."
Mr. Statler, born and raised in Monongalia County, W.Va., is a third-generation miner who worked the midnight shift at Pursglove mine while enrolled at WVU. He received a bachelor's degree in mining engineering from WVU in 1973.
Mr. Statler's career with Consolidation Coal Co. spanned 30 years. Hired in 1969 as a laborer, he rose to become senior vice president of mining in 1996.
He formed his own mining company three years later. In 2003, Benjamin Statler LLC and Questor Management obtained the assets of U.S. Steel Mining Co. and founded PinnOak Resources LLC.
Mr. Statler was president and chief executive officer until July, when the company was sold.
Bill Schackner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977.