KU receives $58 million from estate of alumni

The University of Kansas on Tuesday celebrated the largest single donation from individual donors in school history.

The $58 million gift from the estate of Madison “Al” and Lila Self will provide fellowships and scholarships for students in business, economics and the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.

Tuesday’s announcement brings the total donation from the couple to $106 million, making them the university’s most generous private donors, school officials said.

Al Self died in January 2013 in Hinsdale, Ill., a Chicago suburb where he and his wife had lived for nearly half a century. Lila Self died 10 months later. Both were 91. Their only child, son Murray A. Self, preceded them in death.

Al Self and Lila Reetz grew up in rural Kansas and met at KU, where Al Self earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1943. They married in September that year.

Four years later, the Selfs purchased a company with three employees – the Bee Chemical Co. in Lansing, Ill. When they sold it in 1984, the firm had grown to an international producer of polymers and polymer coatings for use on plastics. It had five U.S. manufacturing facilities and operations in Japan and England.

Al Self later became the chief executive officer of Tioga International, a provider of coatings for the plastics and rubber industries.

“Throughout the nearly 25 years that I knew Al and Lila Self, they remained committed to KU and were steadfast in their support of students,” said Dale Seuferling, president of KU Endowment.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little met with the Selfs on several occasions, including their final visit to campus in 2011.

“Lila and Al were dedicated to contributing to the personal growth of KU students so they can become the leaders our society needs,” she said in a statement. “Their gift will benefit generations of KU students whose innovations and ideas will create prosperity and well-being long into the future.”

While there is at least one area on the Lawrence campus named for the couple – Self Computing Commons in Eaton Hall – “they were not big believers in bricks and mortar, but were more about investing in people, in this case students,” Seuferling said.

Among the many scholarships and programs supported through the Selfs’ donations are the Self Graduate Fellowship program, as well as the Self Engineering Leadership Fellows program for undergraduates, the Mossberg Pharmacy Professorship and the Society of Self Fellows.

Of this latest gift, $39 million will be added to the Self Graduate Fellowship Fund for doctoral students in STEM fields, business and economics; $15 million will go to the engineering leadership program; and $4 million will go into a new Self Graduating Senior Fellowship Fund to recognize graduating students for their achievements.

The Selfs’ gift has helped the university reach its $1.2 billion goal in its “Far Above” campaign, which launched publicly in 2012 with a projected 2016 finish line.