An Augustana College alumnus, Murry Gerber, has made a $40 million commitment to provide financial aid and scholarships to high-achieving students from families with lower incomes, many of whom will be the first in their family to attend college.
Gerber will match gifts dollar-for-dollar in support of endowed financial aid up to $40 million, providing an additional $80 million to Augustana’s endowment.
“This is transformational generosity,” said Steve Bahls, Augustana’s president. “It will benefit a substantial number of students on this campus for generations, and this gift is a reflection of Murry’s firm belief in the potential of first-generation students and the value of a liberal arts education.”
Gerber said, “I was a first-generation college student. Our family did not fully understand the breadth of opportunities available from a college education nor the generational benefits of a college degree.
“Augustana College understands this fundamentally and is uniquely equipped to support students through the scary and challenging transitions that first-generation students often experience.”
Carrying only a backpack, Gerber, a 1975 graduate, rode his bicycle 180 miles from Chicago to the Rock Island campus as a first-year student to avoid the expense of a train ticket. He never intended to go to college, believing his best opportunity was to work at U.S. Steel as a laborer.
An advisor at his high school encouraged him in the direction of Augustana, but he did not give up on U.S. Steel. “Working summers and holidays at U.S. Steel put me through college,” Gerber said. “I’m so grateful to that company.” Today, Gerber serves on the board of directors.
Gerber remembers a quote from former Augustana President Dr. Conrad Bergendoff: “To lose the baton in the relay race of the ages is to forfeit the race in which humanity is engaged.” He believes this statement captures the essence of the Augustana mission then and reverberates even more loudly today.
“We must not drop the baton,” Gerber said.
For him, taking the baton today means launching The Grand Challenge in Philanthropy: The Murry Gerber ’75 Challenge, with a $40 million commitment to in support endowed financial aid and scholarships for high-achieving students from families with lower incomes.
Unlike the traditional type of challenge gift in higher education, Gerber’s contributed dollars will go directly into the endowed scholarship and financial aid funds of new and existing scholarships, effectively doubling the value and impact of the scholarships.
The Gerber gift and all matching gifts will help the college meet 100% of demonstrated financial need for a significant portion of Augustana students, beginning with the class entering the college in the fall of 2023.
"Although this donation did not affect me personally, I know how important and life-changing it will be for first-generation, low-income students," said Gabriela Arreguin '22. "I have no doubt that the students who will benefit from this donation will make a difference at Augustana."
The $40 million gift, which is the largest made to Augustana, is among the largest gifts to any of the 26 colleges affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
“This gift, and the additional philanthropic support it will inspire, will be empowering for Augustana College,” said Kent Barnds, Augustana’s executive vice president for external relations. “We are humbled by Murry’s generosity and his commitment to support high-achieving students from lower-income households.
“As I discussed this gift over the course of the past few months with Murry, I could sense the pride he has in offering students who have the same life circumstances he had the opportunity for the type of education offered at Augustana College,” Barnds explained.
After graduating from Augustana, Gerber earned a M.S. in geology from the University of Illinois. He began his career at Shell Oil. Years later, as CEO of EQT Corporation, his leadership, innovative spirit, creativity and risk-taking made him a national leader in responding successfully to the call for energy independence for the United States. Now retired, Gerber serves on several corporate and non-profit boards, including the Augustana College Board of Trustees.
Gerber has supported Augustana students by funding the Gerber Center (the college’s innovative center for student life), faculty salaries and the First-Generation Student Support Fund, and many other strategic initiatives, including a $1 million challenge in the early days of the pandemic.
Gerber concluded, “I hope everyone who has, like me, benefited from the lift of an Augustana education, as well as the many friends of the college and its mission, will rally to this call for support.”
Keri Rursch, 309-738-2628