Lehigh Valley couple makes $4 million gift to Penn State

University Park, Pa. — Bethlehem, Pa., residents Tom and Karen Flad have made a $4 million estate commitment to support future talented and ambitious students in the College of the Liberal Arts and in Intercollegiate Athletics at Penn State. Of the overall total, $2 million will go to the Italian language and literature program and $1 million to a director’s fund in the Paterno Liberal Arts Undergraduate Fellows Program, both in the college. Finally, $1 million will be divided equally between the football and rugby programs, in honor of Karen’s father, Charles Meyers, and their son, Stephen, respectively.

''Our whole family has a love of education and an appreciation of the value of education,'' said Tom. ''When my financial adviser and I discussed estate planning and charitable giving, Karen and I immediately thought of the University because Penn State has been such an important part of our family for years. We decided that helping students and faculty with much needed resources for the best education would reflect the values of our entire family including our parents and grandparents.''

Tom is a 1974 pre-law graduate of the College of the Liberal Arts, but instead of law school, he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Kutztown University. Tom’s wife, Karen, whom he married in 1978, also became a school teacher, at the elementary level. They both taught at a school district in Columbia, Pa., where Tom also coached the high school baseball team. Tom later entered the housing finance industry and has enjoyed a successful career for over 30 years. Today, he is an area director with the MetLife office in the Lehigh Valley. Their son, Stephen, is a former Penn State rugby player who graduated in 2006, and he is now teaching physical education to elementary school children in the Lehigh Valley.

''We greatly appreciate Tom and Karen's generosity to the student athletes in our football and rugby programs," said Tim Curley, director of athletics at Penn State. ''Their legacy will enhance the educational benefits of those programs and attract student athletes who truly value education as the Flads do."

Tom’s passion for Italian studies came naturally. He was raised in the Easton, Pa., area by his mother, Sarah Barbera Flad, and his Sicilian grandmother, Giovanna ”Jennie” Sanquedolce Barbera, who spoke very little English. Many Italian-Americans and Italian immigrants also lived in the area, so Tom became fluent in speaking Italian. With an affinity for languages, he also studied French, Spanish and Latin in high school. At Penn State, he took Italian courses so he could learn to read and write the language. The gift for the Italian program is made in memory of Tom’s mother and grandmother.

''My whole life has been a love for all things Italian,'' Tom said. ''My grandmother was very proud that she became an American citizen, but she would tell me stories about growing up in the old country and about their traditions.'' He and Karen have visited Italy every year as well as other countries in Europe, and Tom conducted family genealogy research in the Sicilian villages where both his grandparents were born.

In addition, Karen and Tom also are longtime fans of Penn State football and have attended games for many years with family members. The couple has always admired Coach Joe Paterno’s ''Grand Experiment," which emphasized education first and athletics second. The Paterno Liberal Arts Undergraduate Fellows Program appealed to them immediately as a gift possibility.

Karen said, ''The Paterno Fellows program encourages talented Liberal Arts students to work hard and pursue academic excellence, leadership and community service. The program is in its early stages and growing rapidly, so we are excited to help those students to work hard and fulfill an education for leadership.''

Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, said, ''Tom and Karen’s overwhelming generosity will enhance the education of hundreds of future students at Penn State and inspire them to pursue higher levels of excellence. The Flads are among the pioneer alumni and friends who are enabling the Paterno Fellows honors program to create challenging and fulfilling academic experiences for our Liberal Arts students. I also am thrilled by Tom and Karen’s support of the Italian program, which will provide resources to the program faculty to create more innovative courses and other learning opportunities for our students and thus to elevate the study of Italian at Penn State.''

Last Updated November 23, 2010