August 27, 2021
The Measure You Give
By Joyce DeFrancesco
Walk on to nearly any college or university campus in Southwestern Pennsylvania and you’ll find a center, school or college with the Eberly family’s name on it. At Carnegie Mellon University, it lives on the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation as well as several endowed scholarships and professorships.
“It all began with one man, who didn’t have the opportunity to go to college but had a passion for learning that he never lost,” says Robert E. “Bob” Eberly Jr., president of The Eberly Foundation. “He wanted to make sure — when it became possible for him to help others — that everybody from our area of Pennsylvania would have an opportunity to extend their education beyond high school.”
That “one man” was Orville Eberly, Bob’s grandfather. The son of a coal miner, Orville left school early to work in the mines to support his family. Orville’s hunger for learning spurred his professional rise, ultimately becoming the general superintendent of mines for the Kingston-Pocahontas Coal Company in southern West Virginia. From there, his success multiplied as he began investing in the stock market, exploring for oil and gas, and purchasing a bank, which he named Gallatin National Bank, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
Orville and his wife, Ruth, taught their three children the importance of giving and made them an integral part of The Eberly Foundation, established in 1963. Their first grant was in 1965, an award of $10,000 to the Pennsylvania State University for scholarships at Penn State’s Fayette County campus.
In the years since, the foundation has established scholarship programs and endowments at 28 colleges and universities, creating opportunities for thousands of young Pennsylvanians — many of them first-generation college students.
“This chair allows me to pursue a high-risk direction in my laboratory. The impact to me and my lab has been substantial, as recent research has revealed exciting new questions with implications for a broad range of human pathogens.”
N. Luisa Hiller, Eberly Family Associate Professor of Biological Science, Mellon College of Science
Orville’s son, Robert Sr., took his father’s lessons of philanthropy and the importance of education to heart. Following Orville’s death in 1983, Robert Sr. led the foundation as it distributed $52 million to colleges, universities and other charities over the next few decades. These gifts established endowed chairs and distinguished professorships, like CMU’s two Eberly Family Career Development Professorships in Biological Sciences, underwrote new buildings and libraries, and added to The Eberly Foundation’s existing scholarship programs, including CMU’s Eberly Scholarship Fund.
“I would not be surprised at all to learn that he [Robert Sr.] wanted to make sure that really bright kids who could succeed at a place like Carnegie Mellon had an opportunity to go there,” Bob Jr. says.
Robert Sr. was instrumental in launching CMU’s Eberly Center with a $2.5 million gift in 1996. The center helps educators at CMU excel in their teaching, collaborating with them to design and implement meaningful experiences for learners.
“The support of The Eberly Foundation has been a huge win for the Eberly Center,” says Marsha C. Lovett, associate vice provost for teaching innovation & learning analytics and director of the Eberly Center. “It allows us to pursue new opportunities that address emergent faculty needs and then, as appropriate, make these innovations part of our ongoing practice.”
Because of the Eberly family’s support, the center is able to respond to the rapidly evolving classroom needs of faculty by hiring the right people or securing new technology. During the pandemic, the Eberly Center team’s expertise and research were crucial in leading the university's pivot to virtual learning and assisting CMU’s faculty as they adjusted their teaching to a remote environment.
“The Eberly Foundation’s commitment reflects the values of the Eberly family. This unique gift preserves and protects those values for future generations.”
Mick Koster, Executive Director of Planned Giving, Carnegie Mellon University
The foundation’s most recent commitment to CMU is being made in an uncommon way. Two trusts set up by Orville in the 1960s will terminate in 50 to 60 years, with the foundation as the recipient of the trusts' corpus. With an eye to the future, Bob Jr. and his son and current foundation trustee Robert Eberly III, along with the foundation board, decided to allocate a portion of the funds as a planned gift to several colleges and universities supported by the foundation, including Carnegie Mellon. It’s an admittedly unique giving approach, Bob Jr. says, but one of which he is particularly proud.
The commitment will provide the greater of $3 million or 5% of the total value received from the trusts upon their termination to the Tepper School of Business (where Bob Jr.’s nephew, Kyle Eberly, earned his MBA in 2018) and CMU’s Eberly Center.
Bob Jr. takes obvious pride in continuing his family’s legacy of philanthropy and making the biggest impact he can with the foundation’s resources.
“Some of the universities have programs in place that encourage the students to write their scholarship benefactors, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading those letters,” he says. “Every time I come across one from a first-generation college student whose father maybe worked in the coal mines and retired due to black lung — and the family didn’t have the wherewithal for that student to ever imagine going to college — it just reminds me of my grandfather all over again.”
“There’s been this wonderful example of philanthropy in our family that has been inculcated in each generation as they have come of age, and I surely hope that continues.”