The last time Eric Kolbe ’65 visited the Gettysburg College President’s Office it was to meet with President Carl Arnold Hanson in the 1960s. Kolbe was one of a group of students who expressed outrage to Hanson about segregation at a local barbershop. They came in support of civil rights.
Forty-plus years later, in April 2013, Kolbe returned to campus for the first time since his graduation. He had a full day: lunch to reminisce with Prof. Emeritus Lou Hammann, a look around campus, and a meeting with President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77, whom he was meeting for the first time. Once again, his interest was in making the world a better place, this time through an unexpected and extraordinary act of generosity. He reached into his jacket pocket and handed President Riggs a letter—committing $2 million to the College endowment.
“I was speechless,” said Riggs. “I looked at Eric after I opened the letter, and he had a big grin on his face. I think he very much enjoyed the element of surprise and my reaction to it.”
Riggs and Kolbe (pictured with Robert Kolbe and Jim Chemel '71, chair, Board of Trustees) discussed where the gift might have the most impact. “Eric agreed that providing students the opportunity to do research with faculty aligned with his desire to make a real difference in our students’ experience,” said Riggs. “We want our students to have the chance to work on a sophisticated scholarly project that will enhance their knowledge and skills and inspire their academic passion,” she added. “This gift reflects that vision and it was my privilege to accept it.”
The Eric E. Kolbe ’65 Student-Faculty Research Fund supports faculty-mentored research and creative activity and is part of Gettysburg Great, The Campaign for Our College. The campaign is a comprehensive effort to increase support for student scholarships, active learning opportunities like research and internships, faculty and teaching, a renovation of Plank Gymnasium, and the Gettysburg Fund.
Kolbe made the gift in honor of his parents, Johanna and Erich Kolbe, and his brother Robert. He indicated he was making the gift with two goals in mind, “to advance education and the research and skill sets of the recipients” and “to honor my parents who came here from Germany as immigrants, started a business, became citizens, invested wisely, and built a comfortable level of savings.”
“Education and making a positive contribution to society were core values in our family,” he added.
Kolbe chose to come to Gettysburg because of the intimate feel of the community. He was interested in history and already concerned about social and political affairs, but at the College he became even more interested in international affairs and decided to travel and help others. He joined the Peace Corps and served in Colombia. He later earned his masters degree in Latin Affairs Studies from the University of New Mexico.
He dedicated his professional life to improving communities and held various posts related to urban renewal and development and affordable housing in and around New York City and northern New Jersey. He retired as executive director of the Passaic Housing Authority in 2006, where he was said to be the first to arrive in the office and the last to leave.
“Gettysburg College was very valuable for me in gaining self-confidence and becoming my own person,” Kolbe said. “I hope that this is something the students experience. It is important to see how much work it takes to accomplish a task or be a part of research and it is important to play a role in the community and do things for others and see the results.”
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Sue Baldwin-Way, editor, Gettysburg Magazine and director of development communications.
Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521.
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