Ray and Pat Smerge
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Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
May 14, 2007
DeKalb, Ill. — In the midst of its search earlier this year for a new dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Northern Illinois University received a major gift from a benefactor that ultimately will help shape the role of the new dean for many decades to come.
Alumnus Ray Smerge and his wife Pat have pledged to give $2 million to NIU to establish an endowed dean’s chair in liberal arts and sciences.
“This is a transforming, momentum-building gift that demonstrates real leadership on behalf of Ray and Pat Smerge,” NIU President John Peters said. “The NIU community is extremely grateful, and the timing couldn’t be better, as we kick off a public campaign to build our endowment for academic opportunities.
“The Smerges’ pledge represents the largest endowment gift in the history of NIU, the largest gift from an individual to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the university’s first endowed dean’s chair,” Peters added.
When fully endowed, the Raymond and Patricia Smerge Endowed Dean’s Chair in Liberal Arts and Sciences will provide a significant annual income stream for the dean to use to benefit the college’s teaching and research enterprises.
“Ultimately, endowments are more enduring than even bricks and mortar,” Provost Raymond Alden said. “This is an exciting gift for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which touches the lives of all NIU students.”
NIU indeed landed its top choice for dean. The university announced recently that Christopher McCord of the University of Cincinnati will take the reins of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences beginning July 1, pending approval of the NIU Board of Trustees. McCord will oversee the largest of NIU’s seven colleges—with 17 departments, 385 faculty positions, more than 6,500 undergraduates and more than 1,200 graduate students.
“The endowment made an already attractive deanship offer that much more exciting,” McCord said. “It will enhance the entire college, allowing us to pilot programs, provide more research activities and take advantage of important opportunities that otherwise couldn’t be realized.”
Originally from southwest suburban Westchester, Raymond Smerge earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from NIU in 1967.
“During my college years, I had some excellent classes and teachers who stimulated me and challenged me academically,” Smerge said. “I really grew up at Northern, and it holds a special place in my heart. I feel like I owe a lot to the university.”
Smerge began his career as a closing officer with Centex Corporation, a residential development company. While working full time, he attended law school at DePaul University, earning his juris doctorate in 1971 and gaining a promotion at Centex to vice president and general counsel. Today, Centex is a Fortune 250 company and one of the nation’s premier homebuilders. Smerge, a longtime resident of Dallas, Texas, retired from his post as executive vice president and chief legal officer of the company in 2004.
He currently heads Savrola Development Co. LLC, a real estate development and homebuilding firm that he founded.
Smerge said he was inspired to create the endowed dean’s chair by the late Dean Frederick Kitterle, who died in May 2005.
It was Kitterle who first encouraged Smerge to reconnect with his alma mater, inviting him to serve on the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Advisory Council. Smerge accepted the offer. He was so impressed with the college’s Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program and the Freshman Interest Groups that he provided significant financial support to jump-start a fundraising effort to expand the initiatives. In 2004, he was named as the college’s Alumnus of the Year.
“Fred Kitterle had a passion for education,” Smerge said. “I was impressed with the size of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, its course offerings and the variety of programs that Fred was fostering and promoting. I appreciated what he was trying to accomplish.”
After Kitterle’s death, Smerge and his wife Pat provided a $100,000 gift to NIU, establishing endowments named in honor of Dean Kitterle for student scholarships and support of the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program.
“Ray and Pat decided to create the endowed dean’s chair to further raise the profile of the position and the college, building upon the work of their friend, Fred Kitterle,” said Mallory Simpson, president of the NIU Foundation. “It’s a gift that will keep giving—in perpetuity.”
Smerge continues to serve on the college’s Advisory Board and also is a member of the NIU Foundation Board of Directors. He and Pat, parents of four, reside in Dallas.
In addition to his work with Savrola Development, Smerge and his wife organized a charitable foundation that has provided substantial funding support in the areas of health care and education.