Learning to Lead
In 1947, traveling cross country wasn't easy, but that didn't stop Richard Sussman, AS '51, from making the journey from New York to Drake University.
Like many students in crowded universities across the United States, Sussman found himself in an unfamiliar part of the country. As he sees it, being somewhere new was one of the best parts of his learning experience.
"At the time, Des Moines was a very different culture than I knew growing up in New York City," he says. "Seeing things from another perspective and getting along with people who were different from me were the best learning experiences I had at Drake. It taught me how to be a leader."
After graduation, Sussman served during the Korean War where his ability to lead — and follow — was further refined. In 1954, he returned to New York and began a successful career with Mr. Steam, a Long Island-based manufacturer of apparel pressing machinery and, later, steam baths and saunas for the home. He met and married his late wife, Lila, in 1956.
Honoring His Late Wife With a Lasting Gift
Today, after many years as a successful businessman, Sussman values the important role of leadership education. In 2011, he donated $1 million in honor of Lila to fund the Lila and Richard Sussman Endowment for Leadership, which will provide ongoing sponsorship of the leadership conferences attended by students enrolled in the Donald V. Adams Leadership Institute. His generous gift will also fund the first renovation in 30 years of the Bulldog Theater, which will be renamed The Richard and Lila Sussman Theater.
The impact of the Sussmans' generosity is profound. "Lila and I never considered ourselves philanthropists, but we knew we wanted to do something significant for Drake," he says. "It's not easy to give $1 million. It's a lot of money, even by today's standards."
"I worked with my accountant and attorney to determine a way that made financial sense for me to give a portion of my gift today and another portion through a charitable remainder trust," Sussman adds. "This allowed us to see the benefits of our support during our lifetime and maximize the impact of our philanthropy by deferring a portion of our commitment."
As an alumnus, Sussman has remained active with Drake throughout the years. His relationships with Drake students, faculty and staff are an important part of why he chose to make such a significant commitment to Drake. "I believe in education and am pleased to honor my late wife with this gift. I know where my support will help Drake and the people that will take care of it for us," he says.