West Virginia University will award four honorary degrees for innovative and philanthropic efforts during its Commencement Weekend celebration May 15-17.
The honorees include Verl O. Purdy, a pioneer in chemical engineering; Monongalia County natives Ben and Jo Statler, who donated millions to various programs at the University; and Thiru G. Viswanathan, an academic and political leader in India who founded one of the countrys top engineering colleges.
They will receive their honorary degrees during WVU s Commencement Honors Convocation at 7 p.m. May 15 at the Creative Arts Center.
Verl O. PurdyHonorary Doctorate in Sciences
A native of Poca, Verl Purdy earned a bachelors degree in chemical engineering from WVU in 1964 and a masters degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina in 1973.
Purdy began his career with the BASF Group, a leading chemical company, in 1969, and played a major role in developing that company into a multibillion-dollar enterprise in the United States.
He became president and chief executive officer of Rio Tinto Zinc Chemicals in the U.S. and Canada in 1980, and four years later, he founded AGDATA , the largest agricultural data analysis and marketing company in the world.
In 1997, he founded MedData, a division of AGDATA that provides state-of-the-art database and real-time transaction processing technology for the health care industry.
Purdys commitment to excellence extends to the community, especially in his support of education. He is a Paul Harris Fellow in Rotary International, a sponsor of the Technology Forum at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and a member of the Business Advisory Committee of the Belk College of Business at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and he has established an annual scholarship fund for Poca High School students.
Purdy is a member of the WVU Foundation Board of Directors, the West Virginia Business Hall of Fame and the WVU Chemical Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni. He recently established a faculty fellowship in the WVU Department of Chemical Engineering.
Benjamin M. StatlerHonorary Doctorate in Sciences
Bonnie Jo StatlerHonorary Doctorate in Humane Letters
Ben Statler credits WVU for laying the foundation of his success, which led him and his wife, Jo, to provide the University with the largest single monetary gift ever donated$25 million.
He started his career as a laborer with Consolidation Coal Co. and rose to become senior vice president of mining for CONSOL in 1996. Statler retired from CONSOL three years later to start his own mining company, PinnOak Resources. He served as president and CEO of PinnOak until he sold the company in July 2007.
That same year, the Statlers made their extraordinary donation to the University. The first $5 million has supported the comprehensive breast cancer program at WVU ’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center. The Cancer Center gift also enabled WVU to recruit Dr. J. Michael Ruppert, a world-class breast cancer researcher, as the inaugural Ben and Jo Statler Eminent Scholar and Chair in Breast Cancer Research.
A second endowed position, the Bonnie Wells Wilson Eminent Scholar and Distinguished Professor in Breast Cancer Research, was also funded by the Statlers.
Ben Statler has also been extensively involved in several professional organizations within the coal mining community, including the Society of Mining Engineers and the West Virginia Coal Association. He has served on the visiting committee for the WVU Department of Mining Engineering, and his peers at WVU named him the Distinguished Engineer of Mines in 2004.
Statler also gives back to his community through leadership in numerous organizations: the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce, Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, Ohio Valley Medical Center, Upper Ohio Valley United Way, Easter Seals, Christ United Methodist Church and Boy Scouts of America. In August 2008, he was named to the WVU Foundation Board of Directors.
Jo Statler has been a strong supporter of WVU and the state of West Virginia throughout her life. She currently serves on the Metropolitan Theater Foundation Board and provided leadership in launching Bonnies Bus.
The mobile digital mammography unit is offered by the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center and named after Statlers mother, who died of breast cancer. Bonnies Bus will increase access to screening services in remote areas of West Virginia and reduce the states breast cancer mortality ratethe fifth highest in the nation. The bus initiative has also spawned new partnerships throughout the state to improve cancer health care delivery and access to clinical trials.
The remaining $20 million of the Statlersgift to WVU will support Health Sciences programs, the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and the new scoreboard in the WVU Coliseum.
Ben Statler earned his degree in mining engineering at WVU while working the midnight shift at the Pursglove Mine, and Jo Statler worked for the School of Dentistry. Before he graduated in 1973, the couple became the proud parents of a daughter, Julie, and a son, Ben II.
The Statlers were born and raised in Monongalia County and enjoy giving back to the community where they grew up, met and later married.
The couple gave the Monongalia County Board of Education $1.2 million to build a new gymnasium at their high school alma materClay Battelle. It was dedicated in April 2007 and named the Statler Wilson Gymnasium in honor of their parents.
During WVU s 2007 Mountaineer Week, the Statlers were honored as the Most Loyal West Virginians, and the WVU Foundation honored them with the 2008 Outstanding Philanthropists Award. Most recently the Statlers were recipients of the 2009 Milan Puskar Award.
Thiru G. ViswanathanHonorary Doctorate in Humane Letters
Born in 1938 in a remote Indian village in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Viswanathan went on to become the founder-chancellor of Vellore Institute of Technology University, one of the top-rated engineering schools in India.
He excelled in academics through childhood and went on to obtain a masters degree in economics from Loyola College in Chennai, India, and completed his law degree from the University of Madrasalso in Chennai.
A student leader in his 20s, Viswanathan entered Indian parliament, championed peoples issues and was re-elected for another five-year term. To fulfill his desire to play a bigger role in provincial politics, Viswanathan was elected to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly for 10 years. During this period, he served as a minister for two years.
In 1984, he established Vellore Engineering College. The college started out with 180 students, and it has grown to more than 14,000 students in 45 undergraduate and graduate programs, with nearly 10,000 students residing on campus. For the past two years, Vellore Institute of Technology University has been ranked the No.1 private engineering institution in India.
Viswanathan offers scholarships to students from economically disadvantaged areas of India to pursue higher education. He has adopted a number of villages in an effort to improve the quality of peoples lives and has embarked on an effort to make Vellore, a city of 500,000, greener and cooler by planting 1 million saplings.