• October 30, 2014

No. 2: William S. Dietrich II

No. 2: William S. Dietrich II 1

Students at Carnegie Mellon thank William S. Dietrich II, a Pittsburgh steel mogul, who left more than $265-million for the institution's endowment.

Amount donated in 2011: Approximately $500-million

Beneficiary: Dietrich Foundation

Donor’s background: Mr. Dietrich was chairman of Diet­rich Industries, a Pittsburgh manufacturer of metal frames, founded by his father. Worthington Industries bought the company in 1996 for $178-million.

Mr. Dietrich, who was 73 when he died in October, left an estimated $500-million to establish the Dietrich Foundation, to support more than a dozen Pittsburgh and other western Pennsylvania nonprofits. In the weeks before he died of cancer, officials at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh persuaded Mr. Diet­rich to let them publicize two of the largest grants: A $267.5-million donation to Carnegie Mellon and a $125-million gift to University of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Dietrich had planned for more than a decade to create the foundation. Using about $200-million, he set up several trusts in the mid-1990s and devoted his time and energy to investing the assets. He hoped the money would grow to $1-billion during his lifetime, said Edward J. Grefenstette, a longtime friend of Mr. Dietrich’s who was chosen by the philanthropist to lead the foundation. He might have reached that goal had he not been diagnosed with cancer in 2010.

With a sense of urgency, he completed his giving plans, hiring Mr. Grefenstette away from Carnegie Mellon (where he worked as chief investment officer and treasurer). Roughly 90 percent of the foundation’s money will go toward the endowments of colleges and universities, but Mr. Dietrich said the institutions could then use the earnings for any purpose. He set up a plan for the organizations to receive annual payments from the foundation. All of the nonprofits were chosen a decade ago by Mr. Dietrich, who had close relationships with most of the groups through business, civic, and personal connections.

In addition to his two biggest gifts, 11 other organizations will benefit from Mr. Dietrich’s generosity. He directed $25-million to Thiel College, the Greenville, Pa., institution where his parents, Kenneth and Marianna Dietrich, had met. The Pittsburgh Foundation will receive $18.1-million to support the three philanthropies Mr. Dietrich established at the community fund shortly before he died. Of those groups, one will support the Pittsburgh Foundation; another will benefit cultural and civic organizations in Conneaut Lake, Pa., Mr. Dietrich’s hometown; and the third will support similar programs in Greenville, Pa.

Princeton University, where Mr. Dietrich earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1960, will receive $15-million; Duquesne University will receive $12.5-million; and the United Way of Allegheny County, in Pittsburgh will receive $6.9-million. Six groups will receive $5-million apiece: Boy Scouts of America Laurel Highlands Council, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Chatham University, the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania’s Senator John Heinz History Center, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Dietrich’s decision to give the largest slice of the $500-million to Carnegie Mellon’s endowment was based on his long association with the university, where he had served as a trustee since 1997.

“He viewed Carnegie Mellon as the most important institution for the future of Pittsburgh,” said Jared L. Cohon, Carnegie Mellon’s president. “This notion of endowment and contribution to endowment was important to Bill. He saw our lack of significant endowment as a problem,” said Mr. Cohon. The university’s endowment before Mr. Dietrich made his gift was about $1-billion.

To honor Mr. Dietrich’s donation, the university has named its College of Humanities and Social Sciences for his mother, Marianna Brown Dietrich.

The $125-million gift to the University of Pittsburgh was the result not only of Mr. Diet­rich’s board service (he had served on the university’s Board of Trustees since 1991) but also of his experiences there as a graduate student. In the late 1970s, Mr. Dietrich decided to enter graduate school while continuing to run Dietrich Industries. He earned a master’s degree in 1980 and a Ph.D. in political science four years later. For all of his focus on increasing the amount of money that would eventually establish the foundation and carry out his giving plans, his friends said Mr. Dietrich had a deep-rooted love of Pittsburgh and an insatiable appetite for academics, so much so that he continued to study on his own in later years and went on to write two books, In the Shadow of the Rising Sun: The Political Roots of the American Economic Decline, published in 1991, and a collection of essays, Eminent Pittsburghers: Profiles of the City’s Founding industrialists, published last year. He was working on a third book, about the economic rise of China, when he died.

—Maria Di Mento

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