LAWRENCE -- The year that former Standard Oil Chairman Charles E. Spahr gave his first contribution for the University of Kansas, a gallon of gas cost 20 cents, Franklin Murphy was chancellor at KU and the Lawrence campus enrolled a mere 6,816 students.
Nearly five decades and dozens of gifts later, Spahr, civil engineering '34, and his wife, Mary Jane, have committed $6.5 million through outright contributions and estate plans for the KU School of Engineering. The gift brings their total support for the university to more than $11.5 million since 1954.
The most recent gift from the Shaker Heights, Ohio, couple will establish the Charles and Mary Jane Spahr Engineering Fund at the Kansas University Endowment Association. The unrestricted fund will provide support for engineering students and faculty members.
"Charlie and Janie Spahr are among the university's most ardent supporters," said Chancellor Robert Hemenway. "For almost 50 years, they have given their time, talent and financial support to benefit KU. The Spahrs will continue to leave a legacy of pride and hope for our future students and faculty members."
Previous gifts from the Spahrs have included support for professorships, scholarships and expansions for engineering. In 2001, the couple gave $450,000 for a scholarship for students studying engineering and sciences outside of engineering. The year before, they gave $1.5 million for the Spahr Auditorium, a 230-seat multimedia facility in the newly constructed Eaton Hall. Other major funds the Spahrs have established include the Charles E. and Mary Jane Spahr Professorships Fund; an unrestricted fund for the university; an endowment for the Spahr Engineering Library; and two fellowship funds for engineering and civil engineering graduate students.
"In addition to the Spahrs' many financial commitments for KU, Charlie in particular has demonstrated exceptional leadership for the school and the university," said Stuart Bell, engineering dean. "He led the successful fund-raising campaigns for the Spahr Engineering Library, for scientific equipment and for many other university needs. The KU School of Engineering would not be what it is today -- nor would it have the potential it has for the future -- without the Spahrs."
Charlie said he and his wife wanted to provide long-term support for the KU School of Engineering.
"Janie and I want to do all that we can to help the KU School of Engineering be one of the best in the United States," he said. "It's our hope that our gifts will benefit others through the educational process far into the future."
A native of Independence, Mo., Charlie Spahr worked his way through college during the Great Depression by binding books for the engineering program and serving as a chauffeur for Chancellor Ernest Lindley. Following graduation, he worked for the Sugar Creek Refinery in Sugar Creek, Mo., where Janie's father was a superintendent.
In 1939, he started as a pipeline designer at Standard Oil of Ohio, where he worked for the next 38 years, except for time served in the military during World War II. In 1957, he was named president of the company and two years later became chief executive officer, a position he held until his retirement in 1977. While at Standard, he led the design and development of the Alaska Pipeline, which moved oil from the North Slope of Alaska to Ohio for refining and helped the company grow into a modern multinational corporation. He also negotiated the merger between Standard Oil and British Petroleum Co. Ltd.
Janie, who grew up in Sugar Creek, became familiar with KU during trips to see her grandparents, who lived east of the university on Massachusetts Street. She attended KU in 1938. She and Charlie have five children: Sally Whitlow, Stephen Spahr, Cynthia Moran, Susan Ford and Stephanie Schulte.
More than $9 million of the Spahrs' gifts and pledges has counted toward the $500 million goal of KU First: Invest in Excellence, the largest fund-raising campaign in KU history. KU Endowment is conducting KU First on behalf of KU through 2004 to raise funds for scholarships, fellowships, professorships, capital projects and program support. KU Endowment is an independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fund-raising and fund-management organization for KU.
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