Near the end of his senior year at Clay Battelle High School, Ben Statler started working the midnight shift at the Pursglove mine in Monongalia County.
Later in 1969, Statler married Jo, went to WVU to study engineering and continued working in the mines.
By the time he graduated in 1973, he was a mine foreman.
Statler spent the next three decades working his way up the ladder at Consolidation Coal. His specialty was turning around unproductive mines.
He eventually left the company and started out on his own, buying up U.S. Steel’s unprofitable metallurgical coal mines. Just as he did with Consol, Statler found ways to put the mines back in the black. Meanwhile, he benefited by a surge in the demand–and the price–for metallurgical coal.
Statler sold the company a few years ago, making him and his wife an extremely wealthy couple.
Last week, the Statlers donated $34 million to the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. It’s the largest gift in the institution’s history.
The gift will draw down a match of $11 million from the state research trust fund. That, combined with a previous gift, brings the value of the Statler’s total donations to nearly $60 million.
Statler cites his love for the community as his reason for his generosity.
"That’s the way we were raised," said Statler, who grew up on a farm in Monongalia County. "We do it because we believe it will be beneficial to folks."
Those benefits are almost incalculable.
The money will pay for a new engineering research building, scholarships for at least 20 undergraduate engineering students and three endowed chairs for top professors. His previous donations have helped fund the WVU Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, the Erickson Alumni Center and the new basketball practice facility.
The Statlers’ generosity is a potential game changer.
"We should be the energy engineering college of the world," Statler told me. Imagine if research at WVU or a brilliant student helped by a Statler scholarship finds new or better ways to power the future?
Naturally, and appropriately, the Statlers’ donation is huge news, but there are many others who, each year, generously give to the University. Between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011, the WVU Foundation raised a record $96.3 million. A total of 21,613 individual donors made 35,230 gifts during the period.
Americans are generous folks. The Charities Aid Foundation’s World Giving Index says the United States is the most generous country in the world. The U.S. ranks in the top 10 in giving as a percent of income, giving time and helping strangers.
The news is often dominated by stories about greed and consumption, so much so that it creates an inaccurate perception that Americans are particularly selfish. But the Statlers’ philanthropy, and the generosity by thousands of other WVU benefactors, demonstrates the power of altruism.
Ben Statler is yet another example of how the country fosters earned success; how hard work, ingenuity and risk can create wealth and opportunity, not just for himself and his family, but for others.
Statler says his philosophy is that you "do things that pay dividends." And the Statlers’ gifts will be doing that for a long time.