By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
The Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) will be able to help an extra 150 to 200 children with Catholic school tuition next fall — and for years to come — thanks to a new $1 million gift from the Lechleiter family.
The nine adult children of Jeanne and the late John H. Lechleiter will donate the funds over a period of five years to honor their parents, said John C. Lechleiter, the eldest of the siblings.
He noted that their mom and dad put all nine children through Catholic elementary schools — including St. Stephen Martyr for grade school — and Catholic high schools. Eight of the children also attended Catholic colleges.
“We were middle class all the way,” noted Lechleiter, who is now the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Eli Lilly and Co. in Indianapolis. “My dad had a good job. We never had to go wanting. But there’s no question that when you have nine kids and you’re putting them through Catholic schools 40, 50 years ago, that’s a sacrifice. And that’s what we’re thanking them for.”
Richard A. Lechleiter, who is president of the foundation and also one of the nine siblings, said the family’s gift will be a “huge shot in the arm” for the foundation’s tuition assistance.
“These kinds of gifts are very powerful,” he said. “What we’re trying to do over time is to go from grants of $2 million a year for tuition assistance to $5 million a year. That’s our long-range objective. A gift like this gives us a huge lift to getting there faster.”
He noted that David A. and Betty Jones gave a similar gift — also of $1 million — to the foundation last year.
“That gift by itself helped almost 200 kids last fall,” Richard Lechleiter said. “That was just the first stipend of that gift.”
For now, the foundation is using gifts such as these for direct tuition support — meeting current needs, rather than building the foundation’s endowment.
“We’d like to grow the endowment over time, but our priority now is to meet current need,” Richard Lechleiter said, noting that the endowment currently has about $20 million.
Richard Lechleiter said he, his wife Janice, his siblings and their spouses are excited to make this gift.
“It’s a thrill to see how all nine of us have come together to do this in honor of our parents who made enormous sacrifices to provide for our Catholic education,” he said. “I’m particularly pleased because many of my siblings don’t live in Louisville anymore, but they are still willing to give back to Louisville — where they started.”
John C. Lechleiter said he, his wife Sarah and his siblings believe in the work the foundation is doing and have seen, through Richard Lechleiter’s involvement, the good work it does.
“The choice to make this gift was an easy choice,” he said, noting that he credits much of his success in business and his personal life to Catholic schools.
“Our Catholic education was pivotal,” he said. “We knew then and we appreciate now how much our parents sacrificed. We saw the importance they assigned to it and that carried over to the kind of importance we assign to it today.
“The values we learned and the education in our faith through grade school and high school — those are the things that really endure over the years,” he said. “Faith, family, giving back to the community, treating people with respect and being people of integrity.
“They formed us as people and parents, as citizens, business people in my case,” he added.
John Lechleiter said he hopes his family’s gift gives other families the opportunity to experience this formation.
“We hope this gift opens the door to more kids who hopefully will benefit in the same way that we did,” he said.
The Lechleiter siblings and their spouses also include: Barbara and Doug McGrath of Simpsonville, S.C.; Paul and Maureen Lechleiter of Cincinnati; Bruce and Annette Lechleiter of Dayton, Ohio; Donald (Dino) and Nanci Lechleiter of Alpharetta, Ga.; Nancy and Mike Meurer of Cincinnati; Alice and Dan Sheehan of Louisville and Jeannie and Dr. Pat Donovan of Louisville.