Augustana prepared me to be a CEO
With only a backpack full of clothes, Murry Gerber, with an intrepid friend, rode his 10-speed bicycle from Chicago to Rock Island-180 miles in three days-and moved into Seminary Hall to begin his life as an Augustana student.
Of the nearly 500 students in Gerber's class at an inner-city Chicago high school, only 25 or so went on to college.
"There were no expectations for us to go to college," he explained. "It was the early '70s, and manufacturing jobs were plentiful." In fact, during his high school summers, Gerber worked as a union steelworker. That's probably what he would have continued doing if a high school counselor hadn't encouraged him to attend college.
"Augustana was one of only a few colleges that came to our high school to recruit," Gerber remembers. "I did very little research...My mother is a Swedish immigrant and Lutheran, so Augustana seemed a good choice." Gerber applied to only two other schools because he couldn't afford any more application fees.
A visit to campus followed by an acceptance letter brought Gerber to Rock Island, and began a journey of four years that shaped him in ways he never could have imagined and laid the foundation for his career. As a first-generation college graduate on his Swedish mother's side, Gerber feels his experience epitomizes the mission Augustana's founding fathers adopted in 1860.
To be sure, it wasn't easy. Gerber's high school had not prepared him for the academic rigor of college, and he found himself studying late into the night while his new classmates seemed to be handling the workload. After he become ill with mononucleosis during his first quarter, an Augustana administrator visited him in the infirmary. He told Gerber he didn't think he was going to make it at Augustana.
"When I came, I had no clue as to what going to college involved," Gerber said. "But once I got well, I was able to make up all my tests, and I finished the term with straight A's. I worked hard, but I'll unabashedly admit luck had a huge impact, too."
Gerber initially wanted to become a union lawyer. "To be honest, I didn't know you could have a career in science," he said. "I didn't know anyone who was a scientist or an engineer. But then I came to Augustana, and I had to take a broad range of courses."
To fulfill science requirements, Gerber enrolled in geology and geography and there he met three professors who mentored and inspired him. Their names are well known among Augustana alumni-Dr. Dick Anderson '52, Dr. Edward Hamming and Dr. Fritiof Fryxell '22. Dr. Fryxell had retired from teaching, but he frequently visited campus and met with students.
After graduating with a bachelor's in geology in 1975, Gerber received scholarship assistance to attend the University of Illinois where he earned a master's in geology. "I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do when I got my master's, but I was fortunate enough to get a job with Shell Oil, and I have been in the energy business ever since."
Gerber stayed with Houston-based Shell Oil for many years, but in 1998,he became CEO of EQT Corporation in Pittsburgh. He retired as the CEO in 2010 but remained as EQT's executive chairman until last spring.
"My geology courses prepared me to be a scientist, but Augustana prepared me to be a CEO," Gerber said. "No one beats Augustana in providing the foundation for a balance between heart and mind that is required in U.S. business leadership today."
Gerbers lead with $6.3 million gift
Murry Gerber ‘75 and his wife Cindy have given $6.3 million to the Authentically Augustana: A Call to Action campaign, with $3.3 million to go toward the college’s new Center for Student Life and $3 million for the college’s endowment, with a substantial portion set aside for scholarships for geology majors.
“This gift reflects a desire to give back to a place that has been central to enhancing the lives of so many young people,” said Gerber, a member of the college’s Board of Trustees and a campaign co-chair.
Preliminary work on the $20.’4 million Center for Student Life will begin in March; the project is scheduled for completion by August 2013.
The new student center will be connected to the existing Thomas Tredway Library, combining the library, dining services and student activities in one building. A yearlong study by a campus task force and lengthy deliberation by the college’s Board of Trustees determined that fusing a student center with the library was the best way to address both the changing academic and social needs of today’s students.
“We hope this gift will be viewed as testimonial of my support for the college’s mission, strategy and leadership, particularly as that mission is being manifested in the new student center,” Gerber said. “The new student center is a tangible and bold demonstration of the college’s response to the expansive possibilities of collaborative learning. We believe this unique building will cement Augustana’s leadership position among U.S. colleges as a high-impact learning institution.”
Features of the fused library and new student center include:
Building the Center for Student Life is tied directly to Augustana’s strategic plan, Affirm our Mission, Assure our Future and Assess our Results, by upholding the college’s commitment to a student-centered approach and culture. A dynamic building, anchoring the academic quad and housing multiple key student functions, will enhance the campus, benefit the entire student body, and improve student recruitment and retention.
“With this gift, the Gerbers lead the way for thousands of alumni, parents and friends who generously support the mission of the college,” said President of the College Steve Bahls. “They invest in Augustana because they have a profound appreciation for what the college has done in their own lives, and they want to continue that transformation in today’s students and the students to come.”
Gerber’s own experience at Augustana has shown him that the college is “committed not only to content learning, but also to instilling the ethical guidance so critical for students as they prepare for the workforce or for graduate school.”
“Augustana does what it says it’s going to do in preparing both mind and spirit,” he emphasized. “If the CEO of Enron had gone to Augustana, that mess wouldn’t have happened.”
Leadership gifts, including this substantial investment from the Gerbers, are bringing the college’s Authentically Augustana: A Call to Action comprehensive campaign to a conclusion at close to $150 million, $50 million over the initial goal.
“Murry and Cindy Gerber stand at the forefront of philanthropy at Augustana,” noted Lynn Jackson, Augustana’s vice president of advancement. “They are propelling the college to new and greater heights.”
Contact Augustana Magazine editor Debbie Blaylock by email; by phone at (309) 794-8979; or by mail at Augustana College, 639 38th St., Rock Island, Ill., 61201.