Augustana receives $40M gift – largest in school history

When Murry Gerber was a young man, he rode his bicycle 180 miles from his Chicago home to Augustana College, in Rock Island, because he didn’t want to spend money for a train ticket.

Today, Mr. Gerber, an Augustana alumnus and retired businessman, is helping a new generation of students who might not have money for a ticket or higher education. He has made a $40 million commitment to help students pursue their education at Augustana.

Augustana College students, staff and faculty members sign a paper that will be sent as a “thank you” note to Murry Gerber for his $40 million gift to the Rock Island college. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

The gift is the largest such gift in the school’s history, Augustana College President Steve Bahls told a lunch hour crowd on Wednesday, April 6, in the Gerber Center on the Augustana campus. “This is good news for Augustana, but better news for students of Augustana,” Mr. Bahls said in announcing the record financial commitment.

The gift will provide financial aid and scholarships to high-achieving, first-generation students and high-achieving students from families with lower incomes. Mr. Gerber’s gift will likely spur more financial aid money to the college as it will be a dollar-for-dollar match for endowed financial aid up to $40 million. The matching fund gift – known as the Murry Gerber ‘75 Challenge –  could add up to $80 million to Augustana’s endowment.

Mr. Bahls called the $40 million gift “transformational generosity” that will open the doors to many students who believed they would not advance to higher education because of the costs of college.

Murry Gerber

“I was a first-generation college student,” Mr. Gerber said in a news release. “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,” he added.

Mr. Bahls called Mr. Gerber, who did not attend Wednesday’s announcement, a “strong person who is driven.”

The gift from Mr. Gerber and matching funds from other sources will help a “significant portion” of Augustana students, beginning with the class entering college in the fall of 2023, Augustana said. 

Students who have demonstrated a financial need of about $45,000 or more may be helped by the Murry Gerber ‘75 Challenge money. Students who qualify for the financial help typically have a grade-point average of 3.2 or better, rank in the top 20% of their high school class and are amongst the academically strongest of Augustana’s application pool, according to information from the college.

The Augustana College logo shown inside the Gerber Center at the college. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

This is not the first time that Mr. Gerber has helped his alma mater. In recent years, his financial support has helped fund the Gerber Center as well as faculty salaries, the First-Generation Student Support Fund and other initiatives.

“I hope everybody 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,” Mr. Gerber said the release.

After his days at Augustana, Mr. Gerber went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of Illinois and began his career at Shell Oil. He eventually became CEO of EQT Corp. Mr. Gerber now is retired and serves on several corporate and non-profit boards, including the Augustana Board of Trustees.

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