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Michael Stevenson

Former president of the National Honor Society gives $145,000 to the Presidential Scholars Program and MSU Library

April 26, 2011 -- by Phillip Luebke

A Butte native and 1942 graduate of Montana State University has pledged $145,000 to support the presidential scholars program and the library at MSU.

Earlier this month, David Lehwalder, 90, and his wife, Lois, established the David C. Lehwalder Family Presidential Scholarship, an endowment fund that will provide ongoing support for MSU’s most distinguished academic awards, the presidential scholarships. He committed additional funds to provide current support for the scholarship program, and he created a second endowment through Shell Oil Company’s charitable gift matching program, to ensure that the MSU Library will have the resources necessary to continue acquiring electronic media and books in the subjects of chemistry and engineering well into the future.

“The Lehwalders’ strategy in making this gift was very well thought out,” said Patricia Gleason, director of development for the MSU Library, “They are not only providing support to a program that attracts top scholars to MSU, but they are also providing support to the library, which plays a critical role in student success.”

“The way that the Lehwalders structured this gift was extremely smart, and an excellent example of the various ways that donors can maximize the impact of their contributions,” continued Gleason. “They set up an endowment that is designed to generate support for MSU’s presidential scholars program in perpetuity and augmented that gift with additional funds for immediate scholarship distribution. By spreading their gift out over five years, they was able to make the most of David’s former employer’s charitable contribution matching program – which has a yearly maximum – and provided vital support for the library.”

“I’m a big proponent of the hard sciences,” said David Lehwalder, “My classmates Bob Sullivan, Jim Carey and I all studied chemistry or chemical engineering at Montana State and we were the first three in our class to be hired. The education we received at MSU served us well later in life, and I want to provide today’s students with opportunities to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Investing in presidential scholarships accomplishes exactly this objective, said Dr. Ilse-Mari Lee, director of the Honors Program at MSU, which administers the Presidential Scholarship Program, “These students are indeed the leaders of tomorrow. They serve our campus as leaders and servants of others, while excelling academically.”

Presidential scholarship recipients receive annual tuition waivers, a generous merit grant and other unique incentives for each of their four years. MSU’s Presidential Scholars have gone on to receive such renowned awards as the Goldwater, Truman, Rhodes, Boren, Jack Kent Cooke, Udall and Mitchell scholarships.

“Competition for the presidential scholarships is extremely high,” said Lee, “We receive applications from all over the country, and even internationally. The Lehwalders’ generous support of the program will help us continue to attract top scholars to study here at Montana State University.”

The presidential scholars program didn’t exist when David Lehwalder was in school, but there’s no doubt he would have at least been considered for the program if it did. President of the National Honor Society as a Butte High School student in the 1930s, Lehwalder graduated with honors from Montana State College with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1942. Immediately upon graduating, he went to work for Shell Oil Company, and remained with the company until he retired in 1980.

Lehwalder’s career at Shell took him to California, New York, Illinois and Texas. Initially he worked in the physical chemistry department, where he became an expert on separation and purification processes. When World War II came around, his division supported the nation’s war efforts by providing new fuels, weaponry and penicillin.

Thanks to the work ethic he learned growing up in Montana and the education he received at MSU, Lehwalder worked his way up through Shell and spent the last 13 years of his career at the oil company’s head office. From 1964 – 1980 he was in the National Defense Executive Reserve, where he was responsible for keeping oil refineries operating in his region in the event of a national emergency, such as a nuclear attack.

When retirement drew close, Lehwalder and his late wife Betty talked about where to move. They considered several places that reminded them of Montana, but eventually “decided to go for the real thing,” settling on 30 acres of land three miles south of Sheridan, MT.

In addition to his lengthy career with Shell, Lehwalder is proud of his civic service at the municipal and county level. He was the founding chairman of the planning commission in Edwardsville, IL from 1956-1958, and after retiring to Montana he served as chairman of the Madison County Planning Board for 14 years.

Lehwalder attributes his successful career to his education at MSU. He said he hopes that by giving back to MSU he will inspire others with the capacity and the commitment to do the same.