Record gift to establish music conservatory at Gettysburg College

GETTYSBURG, Pa. - Gettysburg College has received the largest gift in its history, an approximately $14-million bequest from Dr. F. William Sunderman, a 1919 graduate who was the institution's oldest alumnus until his death March 9 at 104.

The physician, pathologist, clinical scientist, chemist, toxicologist, author, editor, photographer, and lifelong violinist directed that his bequest be used to establish a musical conservatory at Gettysburg College. The bequest includes Sunderman's important collections of antique violin bows and historic musical scores.

"Dr. Sunderman's vision is to provide talented students with comprehensive classical music instruction and performance training along with a high quality liberal arts education," said Charles Widger, a 1967 graduate and chair of the college's board of trustees. "His dream has been to provide this extraordinary experience at his beloved alma mater. Both his vision and his dream are now being realized through his generous gift. The Sunderman Conservatory of Music will benefit generations of students and become a distinctive feature of the college, further enhancing the college's growing reputation as one of the nation's finest liberal arts colleges."

Over the course of his life, Sunderman played his Stradivarius violin at Carnegie Hall, developed an antidote for nickel carbonyl poisoning and tested it on himself while working on the Manhattan Project, and was one of the first doctors to use insulin to revive a patient from a diabetic coma. In 1999, Green Thumb Inc., a federal program to train and honor workers, recognized him as the nation's oldest worker: beginning in 1965, Sunderman directed the Institute for Clinical Science at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

"He represents really the best of a strong liberal arts tradition," said Gettysburg College President Gordon A. Haaland on the occasion of Sunderman's 100th birthday. "An eminent scientist and physician with a terrific interest in music, he embodies the idea of a well-educated, multi-talented person."

Sunderman's passing gained international attention. Obituaries ran in the New York Times, the National Post (Canada), The Economist (United Kingdom), Los Angeles Times and, as befitted a Philadelphian, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

During World War II, Sunderman was medical director of explosive research at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and Los Alamos Laboratories, better known as the Manhattan Project. He later helped create the medical department at Brookhaven National Laboratory, served as medical consultant for the space project at Redstone Arsenal from 1947 to 1969 and led the clinical pathology department at the Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta.

Sunderman organized the country's first clinical laboratory at Pennsylvania Hospital and invented two instruments for measuring serum electrolytes that were distributed worldwide. He developed testing to determine the precision of analytical procedures in clinical laboratories-a monthly self-audit and advisory Proficiency Testing Service-that continued for 36 years and was used by more than 2,500 labs worldwide.

He taught in the medical schools of eight universities and traveled to 175 countries as a lecturer in medical schools and as a consultant for international chemical and oil companies. He authored 350 papers and 45 books, including a book of photographs and an autobiography, "A Time to Remember," published in 1998.

He was an honorary clinical professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University School of Medicine and Professor Emeritus of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Hahnemann University Medical College. He earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania.

Sunderman was an honorary life trustee of Gettysburg College and former chair of the board of trustees. The college granted him an honorary doctor of science degree (1952), Distinguished Alumnus Award (1963) and an Alumni Meritorious Service Award (1979). In 1983, he established the Sunderman Foundation for Chamber Music, which has presented more than 50 free concerts to the college and local community. He established the college's Henry M. Scharf Memorial Lecture on Current Affairs in 1977.

"For me," Widger said, "it's a personal thrill to see this act of exceptional generosity and commitment take place. I feel fortunate to have been involved with some very fine alums and the administration in helping Dr. Sunderman and the College take this remarkable step into the future. Of course the real credit goes to Bill Sunderman '19. This extraordinary act of generosity is funding his vision and making his dream a reality at Gettysburg College. Gettysburg grads do great things."

Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences. With approximately 2,500 students, it is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park. The college was founded in 1832.

Press release written by Jim Hale, 717-337-6806,

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