By Evan C. Lambrou
Special to The National Herald
August 30, 2014
NEW YORK – It’s a rare thing for someone to be honored by a top-notch university. It’s also rare to be honored by his city – or county, or state – government. It’s even more rare to be honored by each of them, and rarer still to be honored by all on the same day.
But that’s exactly what happened in Pittsburgh this past August, when Duquesne University, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett officially recognized Greek American industrialist John G. Rangos for his philanthropy in general, and for his generosity to Duquesne University in particular.
In addition to the millions Mr. Rangos has given to Duquesne over the past three decades, Duquesne is expected to receive another $1 million from Mr. Rangos shortly. The campaign was kicked off with a $100 thousand gift from the Rangos Unitrust Fund, with another $100 thousand check on the way.
The money will help upperclassmen attending Duquesne’s Rangos School of Health Sciences continue paying for their education during times of dramatic financial need. Mr. Rangos is pledging several $5000 scholarships a year to Rangos School students who suddenly find themselves contending with financial distress.
More than 9800 students are currently enrolled at Duquesne overall. Over 1000 of them attend the Rangos School. Mr. Rangos delivered the commencement address at his namesake school’s graduation ceremonies this past August 8, as 116 students received degrees that virtually guarantee job placement afterwards. More than 900 people were present for the occasion. The Rangos School holds three commencement ceremonies a year – in May, August and December – graduating 157 young men and women this past May.
“I can not tell you how proud I am of how far this school has advanced since its inception. We now house state-of-the-industry laboratories, and our faculty is comprised of some of the finest clinicians in the world. The programs here are contemporary, and our students are trained in some of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. The 99 percent job placement rate in all majors here reflects the commitment of the school’s board, its administrators and its faculty,” Mr. Rangos said during his commencement address.
Earlier that day, both Mayor Peduto and Mr. Fitzgerald proclaimed August 8, 2014 “John G. Rangos Sr. Day” in Pittsburgh: “John Rangos grew up during the Depression as a child, and became keenly aware of the economic hardships that era brought to his community… his generosity has long benefitted many institutions in the region,” the mayoral proclamation states.
“Mr. Rangos has been an extremely generous benefactor, having provided the funds to start the Rangos School of Health Sciences at Duquesne and scholarships for students. His generous spirit does not end there, however,” Mr. Fitzgerald states in the Allegheny County proclamation, noting Mr. Rangos’ many philanthropic activities over the years.
Eligible Duquesne students must apply for the new Rangos scholarships, which will be awarded based on need and academic accomplishment. The awards will help support students’ respective professional phases, which often include one or two years of schooling, according to Dr. Gregory H. Frazer, dean of the Rangos School. Students majoring in athletic training and health management systems begin the professional phase
of their education during their third and fourth years of study, when students majoring in the Rangos School’s physician assistant, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology programs start their professional phase later.
The new scholarship idea came up during a discussion between Mr. Rangos, Rev. Sean Hogan, vice president of student life at Duquesne since 1988, and University President Charles J. Dougherty a few months ago.
Fr. Hogan also runs a scholarship fund endowed in his name at Duquesne. The interest generated from that scholarship endowment is awarded to Duquesne students in dire need on a case-by-case basis, as students present those needs during the course of the academic year (e.g., if a parent suddenly loses his or her job and a student is thereby rendered unable to meet his or her financial obligations to the University).
“The cost of going to college just keeps going up, so we approached Mr. Rangos about the challenges a number of kids are facing, and he very generously stepped forward by increasing his commitment to the University,” Fr. Hogan told the National Herald.
The Rangos Family Foundation also supports the Fr. Hogan Sean M. Hogan Scholarship fund, which is not restricted to students enrolled at the Rangos School, while the new Rangos scholarships are specifically designated for upper classmen at the Rangos School.
“While the University has increased its scholarship commitments to help keep students in school – we now give over $96 million a year in scholarships – it’s still not enough. So Mr. Rangos’ latest contribution couldn’t be more timely. Everything helps, and even a few thousand dollars can make a really big difference to a student who is suddenly forced to decide whether he or she should pull out of school because they simply can’t afford to keep paying for their education here. These scholarships help students facing such circumstances stay in school,” Fr. Hogan said, adding that such scholarships also help alleviate a student’s psychological stress under financial difficulty.
“It’s very painful for students – spiritually and emotionally – to get three quarters of the way thru, and then stop because they suddenly don’t have enough money to complete their studies to earn their degrees. Unless the University comes thru for them, many of these young people would not be able to continue, so anything we can do to increase the availability of scholarships is just a tremendous boon,” he said.
The problem can also quite easily compound, creating even more stress for families struggling to help their children get an education, Fr. Hogan pointed out. “Parents sometimes need to dip into their retirement funds to help their children complete a higher education, and once they do that, that counts as income, and they then have to pay more in taxes, placing an even greater financial burden on those families. So Mr. Rangos’ generosity to Duquesne over the years has been a real blessing,” he said.
Mr. Rangos’ dedication to Duquesne and its students did not fail to get Governor Corbett’s attention: “Your drive, determination and commitment are the distinguishing characteristics that have allowed you to excel in becoming a leader of industry, and in your philanthropy,” the governor wrote in a personal letter to Mr. Rangos.
Now retired, Mr. Rangos was a resident of Pittsburgh for most of his career. He made a fortune in the environmental management industry, pioneering methods and strategies to properly dispose of solid wastes, and setting standards which have since become the benchmark for the entire industry’s practices nationwide.
But he did not restrict himself to building a fortune. He also very deliberately set his sights on targeted philanthropy. In addition to Duquesne, many institutions and organizations have benefitted from his largesse, to include Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and International Orthodox Christian Charities.
All institutions, agencies and causes the Rangos Foundation supports have a special place in his heart, and Duquesne was one of the first to be blessed with his dedication, commitment and business acumen.
Recognizing a need for more professionals in health sciences, Duquesne launched the Rangos School in 1991. The University was able to open its first new school in over half a century because of Mr. Rangos’ gift. The Rangos School has since attracted hundreds of students from across America. It is now widely considered to be among the best – if not the best – schools of its kind in the country, and has very effectively helped Duquesne turn its enrollment problem around. Since 1991, 3358 Duquesne students have graduated from the Rangos School alone.
All this took place as Pittsburgh also shifted its economic base to education, healthcare, finance and high technology (e.g., robotics). Mr. Rangos had a hand in that, too. By giving millions to Children’s Hospital, for example, he played a significant role in helping Pittsburgh recover from the steel industry collapse in the 1980’s. When steel manufacturing imploded, Pittsburgh suffered a major setback. Massive layoffs forced people to leave the city by the hundreds of thousands. The economy was brought to its knees, and Duquesne, which had always catered to students from the Pittsburgh area, started to experience a serious decline in enrollment.
“When parents start losing jobs, students start having a very difficult time being able to afford a higher education. The economy was in a state of flux, and by extension, so was Duquesne,” James Miller, vice president of development and alumni relations at Duquesne, told the Herald, underscoring that Mr. Rangos’ efforts helped both Pittsburgh and Duquesne bounce back.
“When I think about Mr. Rangos, the first thing I think is that he’s a great American. All the things he has done, and continues to do, for our armed services and people in uniform are nothing short of admirable. What the Rangos Foundation has done for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and Foundation speaks for itself,” he said.
Gen. Michael Hayden, a Duquesne alumnus who served the U.S. Air Force from 1967 to 2008, and who also served as director of the CIA under President George W. Bush, is among those who also love and respect Mr. Rangos, he added.
“It was truly a magical moment to watch these two great men, who genuinely love this country and this institution, interact with each other when they first met a few years ago,” he said, noting that when Mr. Rangos started serving the Duquesne board of directors almost 30 years ago, the main thrust was to build the University’s endowment, with a special emphasis on scholarships.
“Duquesne is traditionally known as a ‘boot-strap’ university. Our students, by and large, have not come from wealthy families, so our alums have responded really well to our capital campaigns. We launched our Legacy Fund, which has three components: traditional need-based scholarship, empowerment scholarship and emergency scholarship, which we call the ‘Third Alternative,’ which was initiated back in the 1970’s. When upperclassmen experience financial exigencies due to unforeseen circumstances, necessitating them to withdraw from completing their education here, that’s where Third Alternative comes in,” he said.
When students and their families experience financial events that jeopardize students’ ability to continue earning their degrees, their options are limited. They often feel compelled to find a job and pull out with the intention of returning to complete their studies at a future date, or they consider acquiring additional student loan debt that’s untenable for them. Statistically, Mr. Miller said, most of those students do not return, so Duquesne’s Third Alternative is a crucial factor in helping those students stay in school. “And that’s how Mr. Rangos’ latest commitment to Duquesne fits in with the Third Alternative concept. By offering several scholarships a year to students at the Rangos School, he’s helping students cope with emergency situations,” he said.
Dr. Frazer, who has served as dean of the Rangos School for the last 13 years, told the Herald that Mr. Rangos’ dedication to Duquesne is exemplary, noting that by endowing the Anna Rizakus Chair (to honor his mother’s memory) in 2004, Mr. Rangos has also helped Duquesne continue to attract top-flight faculty to the Rangos School which, in turn, gives Duquesne a competitive edge.
“Mr. Rangos has been a friend and devoted supporter throughout my entire tenure here. He truly is genuinely concerned about the general wellbeing and future success of our students. And his commitment to the Rangos School has been exceptional. The success of our graduates and the difference they make in the world are largely thanks to his commitment and generosity to Duquesne,” he said.
“Healthcare is a major concern for the citizenry, not only for Pittsburgh and the State of Pennsylvania, but also for the entire country. And the fact of the matter is we simply don’t have enough healthcare professionals and providers to go around. When Mr. Rangos joined the Duquesne community, the University decided that it could best serve society and the larger public interest by starting the Rangos School of Health Sciences, and Duquesne has benefitted tremendously ever since he got involved with that effort,” the Dean said.
Dean Frazer, Mr. Miller and Fr. Hogan also agreed that Mr. Rangos’ pioneered efforts to help the academic and professional worlds join forces by pushing to combine the scholastic experience with a practical one. “It’s more commonplace throughout the country today than it was when Mr. Rangos first got involved with Duquesne. But I would say his efforts were certainly visionary in that regard,” Dr. Frazer said.
Looking back on his own career, as well as his efforts to help Duquesne overcome its enrollment problems of yesteryear, Mr. Rangos told the Herald that giving back to one’s community and country is crucial to true success, and emphasized that philanthropy with a clearly defined purpose can play a substantial role in addressing a host of concerns at both the local and national level.
“There’s been considerable suffering and sacrifice over the years. But you keep your head down and do your best to protect and support your family, and you keep moving forward. There are always challenges along the way, some of them severe. But with discipline and hard work – and with God’s grace – you can surmount most obstacles, and you will be rewarded for making an honest effort to do the right thing,” he said.
“After a while, you start to realize that it’s time to give back; that it’s also very important to support your community and your country; and to find ways to do that, whether it’s with your money or your time, or both,” he said.
“When we were discussing the desperate straits that some young men and women run into, Fr. Hogan – a wonderful person and a model priest – mentioned that even a few hundred dollars can help them to finish their education. That’s why I love Duquesne so much. They have truly compassionate people like Fr. Hogan and others who really care about students of ordinary background. You can get an Ivy League-quality education at Duquesne that’s more affordable,” he said.
“But even lower costs are still too much for some students, and I just hate to see kids suddenly rendered financially unable to complete their education for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. So I can’t think of anything better to do than help students who are struggling to earn a college degree. This helps inspire them to keep getting a good education, and gives them an opportunity to be successful and productive citizens,” Mr. Rangos added.