Some years ago, Howie Phanstiel ’70, G’71 was sidelined by a torn Achilles tendon that left him in a cast for several months. The challenging recovery was made less difficult by what it revealed to him about the generosity of others.
“For the first time in my adult life, I was totally dependent on others,” says Phanstiel. “What amazed me was how kind and empathetic total strangers were.” They opened doors and helped him navigate, but also shared encouraging stories and their best wishes.
“Through my recovery and from the kindness shown to me, I came away positive about what is still possible,” he adds. “This is because I believe good acts often beget more good acts. A small ripple in the water from a pebble you skimmed can grow eventually into a tidal wave.”
The Ripple Effect
This ripple effect of giving is a fundamental idea to Phanstiel and his wife, Louise, both of whom played a large role in the creation of Philanthropy Week. In 2010, the couple made a $20 million gift to Syracuse University to create the Phanstiel Scholars program, which provides financial resources for middle-class students to attend SU.
In return, Phanstiel Scholars are expected to pay forward their time, treasure and talent to make the world a better place. They must maintain consistent academic achievement toward their degree at a full-time level and contribute to the health and vibrancy of the Phanstiel Scholars program by becoming mentors for future grant recipients. And they serve as hosts during Philanthropy Week, celebrating the importance of philanthropy to society and the University. This year, the first of the Phanstiel Scholars will graduate.
Yet another component of the Phanstiels’ gift is the Phanstiel Lecture, an annual event that features a speaker who has made an impact through philanthropy and promotes the value of giving back to one’s individual community and the community at large.
“Make the World a Better Place”
Volunteering and thoughtful giving had not been a major part of his early life, but Howie Phanstiel always thought back to his mother’s words. “My mom always taught me that my purpose in life was to make the world a better place,” he says.
He came to understand philanthropy in a broader context beyond just the act of donating funds. “I now feel that philanthropy has as its underpinning a humanistic principal that says we should have an attitude or way of life that is centered by human interests,” Phanstiel says.
As he began to give in more meaningful ways, he also saw how the impact multiplied.
At a 2008 trustee dinner, for example, Phanstiel made some impromptu remarks encouraging others to help students who might be feeling the effects of the financial crisis. As a result, the University created the Syracuse Responds fundraising initiative. With a gift from then-Board of Trustees member John Chapple ’75, Syracuse Responds and its message caught fire, inspiring many to give.
He shares how he and Louise had given to his wife’s former school, Shenandoah Valley Academy, to help with dorm renovations. In turn, a matching gift was secured, students and faculty pitched in with the renovations, and students established a Phanstiel Hall constitution, pledging to follow and study certain character traits, including honesty, integrity, and compassion. “I realized I finally did something to make the world a better place, just as my mom had asked,” he says.
Phanstiel also credited his wife for inspiring him with her caring and thoughtfulness. “She’s the best source of many of our philanthropic ideas, including the Phanstiel Scholars program. She’s opened up my heart.” Louise Phanstiel grew up knowing the impact of giving through her grandmother’s simple kindnesses in her rural community. “Howie and I are hard-wired problem solvers,” she adds. “If you’re wired that way and you have an open heart, you can see plenty of problems that need to be solved.”