William and Josephine Weiss named Philanthropists of the Year

Penn State has named William L. and Josephine B. Weiss recipients of the 2005 Philanthropists of the Year award in recognition of their longtime commitment to the University as volunteers and donors.

William Weiss, a 1951 Penn State graduate in industrial engineering, retired in 1994 as chairman and CEO of Ameritech Corp., a Midwestern communications company. Josephine Berry Weiss is a 1950 Penn State graduate in the liberal arts. She has held numerous leadership posts with civic and educational groups in the Chicago area, where the Weisses lived for many years.

The Philanthropist of the Year award originated in 2002 to recognize outstanding generosity and philanthropic leadership that benefits the Penn State community.

The Weisses have directed their philanthropy primarily to students and faculty in the Colleges of Engineering and the Liberal Arts, and to the University Libraries.

"Bill and Jo have supported some of Penn State's highest academic priorities," said Penn State President Graham B. Spanier. "Through scholarships, they have helped many undergraduates who have financial need, and have enabled the University to attract outstanding graduate students. Bill and Jo have been equally generous in sharing their time and talent as volunteers, and have inspired numerous other alumni to make the same kind of commitment. We are truly grateful for all that they have done for Penn State."

The Weisses are personally involved in their support for students. They established a series of Breakthrough Scholarships for undergraduates in the Colleges of Engineering and the Liberal Arts. These awards, covering 50 percent of tuition, are given to academically talented students who have financial need, show leadership potential and are the first generation in their family to attend college.

"Bill and I meet with our students in small groups at least annually and often correspond with them individually," said Josephine Weiss. "As we've learned about their career aspirations and personal goals, they have become part of our extended family."

The Weiss Graduate Scholarships support talented advanced-degree students in these same areas, and bring together selected doctoral candidates from the two colleges to exchange ideas that are beyond the boundaries of their individual disciplines and to learn from distinguished guest scholars. The two awards programs combined are expected to help more than 250 students over the period of the gift.

"Jo and I met while we were students at the University, and Penn State has played an important role in our lives ever since," noted William Weiss. "We'd like others to experience the same kinds of opportunities and benefits that we did."

In addition, the couple has endowed faculty fellowships in engineering and the liberal arts and the Josephine Berry Weiss chair in the humanities, and designated support for the University Libraries collections and equipment.

William Weiss also has served in a number of volunteer leadership capacities in support of Penn State's private fund-raising efforts. Most recently he was a vice chair of the Grand Destiny capital campaign that raised $1.37 billion in philanthropy between 1996 and 2003. He served as a trustee of the University from 1994 to 2003, and also was a member of the board of directors of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

A Big Run native, Weiss joined Bell Telephone upon graduating from Penn State. He was named chairman and CEO of Ameritech (now part of SBC Communications) in 1984, following a career with Bell companies in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.

Josephine Weiss has been involved as a volunteer leader with such diverse organizations as the Chicago Child Care Society, the Women's Board of Northwestern University, and Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009