Ursinus Receives Record $11 Million Donation to Support Abele Scholars Program
Philanthropists Joan and Will Abele ’61, through their Abele Family Foundation, have generously provided Ursinus with the largest single private gift in its 150-year history, one that will fill the financial gaps confronting many students from low- and middle-income families and support the Abele Scholars Program for years to come.
The $11 million pledge comes during the college’s 150th anniversary year and officially carries Ursinus over its $100 million goal in its Keep the Promise comprehensive campaign.
“For Joan and me, giving back to the college is critically important. This is about more than giving students an advantage. It’s about giving them opportunity,” Abele said.
As an alumnus and member of the Ursinus College board of trustees, Will and his wife, Joan, have supported Ursinus philanthropically for 50 years.
“The Abeles are tireless champions of Ursinus and we’re grateful for their extraordinary support of the college and its students,” Ursinus President Brock Blomberg said. “The Abele Scholars Program has provided standout students with the resources required to reach their fullest potential and become responsible, contributing citizens, all while strengthening Ursinus’s commitment to access and affordability.”
Established in 2018, the scholarship and curriculum enrichment program supports students every year from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland at Ursinus College. It provides students with $53,000 in funding intended to address the costs of a college education beyond tuition, room and board, and assist with student debt upon graduation.
Abele Scholars receive $40,000 over four years. In addition, each scholar receives $2,000 for “start-up” costs such as the purchase of a laptop or required books; $3,000 for academically enriching pursuits such as internships, summer courses, or academic conferences; and $8,000 in loan forgiveness. Too often, additional expenses such as these keep a full college experience out of reach for some students and lessen their ability to take advantage of opportunities that will help them advance after graduation.
In addition to financial need, the scholars must demonstrate academic potential and a record of leadership and civic engagement. Abele Scholars participate in tailored programs and receive adviser support to prepare them for professional, academic and civic success after graduation from Ursinus.
“This generous gift from the Abeles and the Abele Family Foundation ensures that we will be able to continue to provide this critical support for the next decade and beyond, providing eligible students with a clear pathway to a successful undergraduate career,” Blomberg said.
“The Abeles have long been generous supporters of the Ursinus family,” said Rob Wonderling P’16, chair of the college’s board of trustees. “Today’s historical gift truly embodies the 150-year legacy of Ursinus—a legacy that has always blended economic accessibility with opportunity. Will and Joan have been passionately dedicated to this pursuit for more than 50 years, but today I especially thank them for a gift that will forever change the trajectory of hundreds of lives here at Ursinus.”
The Abele Scholars Program is currently in its second year of operation and includes two cohorts totaling 24 students. Approximately 18 first-year students are being targeted for each new cohort, selected annually by a committee of Ursinus faculty, staff, alumni and Abele Family Foundation representatives, who ultimately establish each year’s cohort.
“This is not just any scholarship program, and, I believe, we are all tremendously excited about the many ways in which it supports students who enter Ursinus as Abele scholars,” said Rebecca Jaroff, an associate professor of English who co-directed the pilot program for the first cohort of Abele Scholars.
“From start-up funds that help students cover early expenses, to loan repayment after graduation, this unique program also dovetails seamlessly with two major goals established by the college,” she said, noting Ursinus’s promise to “make private possible” and to reflect the college’s mission statement to develop in its students “a deepened sense of human history and an understanding of who they are as persons, [and] what they ought to do as citizens.”
Fittingly, the gift was announced on Friday, January 17, Benjamin Franklin’s birthday, to acknowledge a “pay-it-forward” pledge that each Abele Scholar makes when selected for the program.
The pledge excerpts a 1784 letter from Benjamin Franklin to Benjamin Webb, in which Franklin declined repayment for a loan and instead encouraged his recipient to “pay it forward,” a mentality that helped to define Franklin as the “founding father” of American philanthropy and organized public aid.
“Most importantly today, I want to recognize why we are all here: our students. Our amazing Abele Scholars,” Abele said. “These are students who are talented intellectually, emotionally, and in many other ways. They are precisely what Ursinus needs, and we are what they need, too. They have all of the ability, and we have all of the support systems to help them grow into all they can be.”
The Abele Family Foundation was established by Joan and Will Abele to support the visions of young leaders to impact their communities through the provision of comprehensive scholarships that increase the affordability of and access to a college education. —By Ed Moorhouse