The year was 1990. Ferdinand Thun ’56 and Francis Figlear ’64G, Lehigh’s director and associate director of planned giving, respectively, sat in an office brainstorming with Jim Swenson ’59, partner at Price Waterhouse and a member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees. They had a vision of how to acknowledge, honor, and thank the many alumni and friends of Lehigh who provide philanthropic support for the university’s endowment. And so, 30 years ago, the Tower Society was born.
About 60 people attended the very first meeting held in the Dorothy Stabler Tower of Iacocca Hall — thus inspiring the name “Tower Society” — with Harry T. Martindale ’27 as the society’s first chair. In the 30 years since, the Tower Society has grown to comprise some of the most iconic names in Lehigh history and the university’s most generous benefactors. Today, the Tower Society honors not just those who have supported the endowment, but also anyone who has made a planned gift to the University.
“I remember that we called it a ‘stakeholders meeting’ because all of the people sitting in that room were invested in Lehigh,” said Lorraine Wiedorn ’84G ’13P ’17P, assistant vice president of planned giving and, at that time, a young staff member. “Tower Society members — both then and now — provide important gifts which fund the many scholarships, fellowships, and faculty chairs that are essential to delivering the Lehigh experience to our students.” Wiedorn has worked closely with members for all of its 30-year history.
Tower Society members are inducted in perpetuity as a lasting thank you for their generosity. The roster currently includes 3,525 names, with 1,695 living members. Lehigh founder Asa Packer himself was inducted posthumously on October 4, 1991. There have been three chairmen in the Tower Society’s history: Harry Martindale ’27, Theodore L. Diamond ’37, and currently Mike Caruso ’67.
Caruso’s own philanthropic leadership was inspired by two factors, his own transformative experience as a student and Asa Packer’s example of giving to Lehigh.
“My life was changed forever as a result of the generosity of someone I never met,” Caruso said. “I am forever grateful for the endowed scholarship I received, which is why it’s so important to me to pay it forward.”
Over the last three decades, Lehigh’s endowment has grown from $244 million to $1.4 billion through both market performance and new gifts. Among other functions, the endowment provides resources for scholarships that allow the best and brightest students to access a Lehigh education, funds to establish endowed chairs that help recruit and retain the most distinguished faculty members, and assets that provide for cutting-edge research and new ways of teaching. The donors who have powered the growth of the endowment, along with all who contribute to Lehigh through any form of a planned gift, are recognized through membership in the Tower Society.
“The Tower Society and its members contribute to the momentum and future of Lehigh through their planned gifts and support of the endowment,” said Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P, chair of the Board of Trustees. “They are a key driver of our latest effort, GO: The Campaign for Lehigh. Their generosity celebrates our rich history and will carry us forward to a bright future.”
“We’re immeasurably grateful to the many donors whose generosity is recognized through membership in the Tower Society. I congratulate them for 30 years of investing in Lehigh’s success,” said President John D. Simon ’19P. “I’ve heard from so many members who are grateful that Lehigh invested in them personally, preparing them for the lives they are now living. In providing for Lehigh’s future through their philanthropy, Tower Society members are carrying on the powerful legacy set by Asa Packer himself.”
By Cynthia Tintorri