Longtime liberal arts benefactors surprise new dean

Susan Burlingame
October 24, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Once in April and again in September, longtime Penn State liberal arts benefactors Gene and Roz Chaiken handed Clarence Lang a substantial check to welcome him to the college and to reinforce the couple’s already sizeable scholarship endowment. Lang was named Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts in spring 2019 and began his tenure July 1.

With these new gifts, the Chaikens cement their position as the University’s largest Trustee Scholarship donors. Since establishing the Gene and Roz Chaiken Trustee Scholarship in 2008 and the Chaiken Family Trustee Scholarship in 2013, the couple has funded 775 student scholarships — amounting to more than $4.5 million in student support. Their latest gifts will provide scholarships for even more Penn State students.

“I know we surprised Clarence [Lang] by handing him a check in April to jumpstart his new deanship, so Roz and I talked about doing it again when we saw him in September,” said Gene. “It was meaningful given how Roz and I feel about scholarships. We do anything we can to help people who deserve to go to Penn State but might not be able to afford it. We also know that providing access to education is one of Clarence’s top priorities.”

“Gene and Roz Chaiken are among the University’s most generous benefactors,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “Their philanthropy and their service are remarkable, and I am deeply grateful to them for continuing to help us fulfill our mission to help deserving students to afford a Penn State education.”

The Chaikens met at summer camp when Gene was a rising sophomore at Penn State and Roz was a rising high school sophomore. Gene’s parents would drive Roz to visit their son at Penn State on weekends.

“I was 15, and Gene was 18,” said Roz. “Our romance has continued for 56 years.”

“Sixty,” corrected Gene, noting that the couple dated for four years before they were married. Gene began working at Almo Corporation, Roz’s father’s family business, eventually taking over as chief executive officer. Gene is now chairman of the board; Roz is executive vice president.

The couple traces their philanthropic roots to their childhoods.

“My father was extremely generous,” said Roz. “When he was president of Almo, people would come in and tell him if they were in need of something. He was always right there to help them out. Employees, their family, sometimes even people he didn’t know. And I saw that growing up.”

Gene was 11 years old when his father announced that his brother should forego a senatorial scholarship so it could go to someone who needed the money more.

“That was the first time I saw my family participating in some kind of philanthropy, and it really made an impression on me,” said Gene. “Even though it would have helped our family — we were very middle class — my father thought there was someone who needed it more.”

The Chaikens said that Penn State is the focal point of their philanthropy because they believe they can have a greater impact at Penn State than anywhere else. Their first gift was an endowed chair in Jewish Studies, which they made along with Chaiken’s brother, Sheldon, and his wife Gail. The couples, along with stalwart Liberal Arts benefactors Arn and Bette Hoffman, also endowed the Jewish Studies Program Director’s Fund in memory of former director, Brian Hesse. Other endowments from Gene and Roz include the Chaiken Centennial Graduate Endowment in Honor of Dean Susan Welch and the Chaiken Endowment for the Study of the Holocaust, both in the College of the Liberal Arts.

“We also thought more about how we could contribute to Penn State in a way that would directly influence students,” said Roz. “That’s when we decided the best idea was to establish a Trustee Scholarship.”

From 2003-05 Gene was a governor’s nonvoting representative to the Penn State Board of Trustees; he was a member of the board from 2005 to 2010. He is an emeritus member of the Liberal Arts Development Council, a Penn State Alumni Fellow (2004), and a Penn State Distinguished Alumnus (2013). In 2009, he was awarded the College of the Liberal Arts’ Sparks Centennial Medal for outstanding service.

In 2013, the college created and presented Gene and Roz with the inaugural Chaiken Leadership Award, which annually recognizes an individual or couple for outstanding generosity. Both Gene and Roz are members of the Laurel Circle of the Mount Nittany Society.

Each year, the Chaikens hold a reception to meet their scholarship recipients.

“Roz and I try to talk with every student who attends,” said Gene. “We like to hear what they hope to accomplish, and we want them to know we are just regular people who want to empower students. We also try to put in the back of their minds that someday they might be in the position to help somehow.”

“At the end of the day, we feel like rock stars,” said Roz. “The students make us feel so fortunate that we are able to do this for them.”

The couple said they want people who hear their story to think about what they can do to help others. Their latest additions to the Chaiken Family Trustee Scholarship, in the form of two sizable checks to Clarence Lang, the new liberal arts dean, reflect the Chaikens’ philosophy of giving.

“I was stunned but completely thrilled both times that Gene and Roz greeted me with philanthropic gifts to add to their scholarship fund,” said Lang. “Penn State’s land-grant mission is clear. We must provide access to education for students from all backgrounds. With people like Gene and Roz as our benefactors, we can fulfill that mission. I deeply appreciate all they have done for the college and the University.”

“Our family has a saying: ‘Helping other people is a privilege, not a chore.’ And that’s the whole basis of our philanthropy,” said Gene. “We have done well, and because of that we have a chance to do good things for other people.”

Concluded Roz: “There’s nothing more rewarding than giving to a scholarship recipient.”

The new gifts to the Chaiken Family Trustee Scholarship advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With support from devoted philanthropists like Gene and Roz Chaiken, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 12, 2019