David Lehman ’68 Donates $5 Million to Endow F&M Wrestling
David Lehman ’68 describes himself as a farm kid.
He just made history at Franklin & Marshall with his donation of a $5 million endowment gift to benefit the College’s NCAA Division I wrestling program, and the humble Lehman jokes that “$5 million would buy a whole lot of cows” where he comes from.
A prominent geologist, Lehman is not comfortable with words like “role model” to describe him. But he acknowledges that his story is an extraordinary example of the impact of an F&M education.
“I could not have imagined starting on a better course for my career and my life than how I started at F&M,” Lehman says. “There were so many opportunities that my education opened up for me. In the culture of where I grew up in Lancaster County, you pay your debts.”
In the early 1960s, Lehman’s high school in the Solanco School District was set against open fields in rural Lancaster County. The fact that neither of his parents went to college was not unusual, and very few seniors in his graduating class of about 200 would be going, either. During a casual conversation with his high school wrestling coach, Robert Hartman ’61, who had wrestled at F&M under coach Roy Phillips ’34, Lehman revealed that he was thinking about going to college.
“My dad had just a sixth grade education, but he wanted all of his four kids to go to college,” Lehman recalls. “We didn’t have a clue about how you apply to college and how you go to college.”
Hartman set up a meeting on campus with Phillips, F&M’s head wrestling coach from 1949 to 1967.
“I knew when I landed on the campus in 1964 that I had found a special place, and this was the place for me,” Lehman says.
Lehman found a home on the freshman wrestling team, which was undefeated his first year. He also was encouraged to take a geology course that he says opened the door to a new passion and a successful career.
Lehman graduated in 1968 with a degree in geology from the department now called Earth and Environment. He served as a non-commissioned Army officer in Vietnam after graduation. Later, after earning a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Texas at Austin, he was a geologist for ExxonMobil for 28 years, and ultimately founded several companies focused on oil and gas exploration and development.
But he never forgot Franklin & Marshall.
“At F&M, I truly loved the student-athlete experience,” he says.
Honoring Academics and Athletics
In 2002, Lehman co-founded the Geosciences Founders Society to build partnerships with alumni and friends in the geosciences field to support student field study and faculty research in the Department of Earth and Environment.
Carol de Wet, the Dr. E. Paul & Frances H. Reiff Professor of Geosciences at F&M, said Lehman’s long-term dedication to the academic mission of the College has been “transformative.”
“He brought to the department a vision for an active and supportive alumni group, drawing on our tradition of camaraderie and shared spirit, married to a forward-looking model, to create the Geoscience Founders Society,” de Wet says.
Lehman also has hired bright graduates. In his current nine-person company, five employees, including Lehman and his daughter, Lisa Lehman ’01, are F&M alumni (Lehman’s brother, Roy Lehman II, M.D., ’69, also graduated from the College). In addition, Lehman has served in numerous volunteer capacities for F&M, including as a member of the Board of Trustees since July 2013.
But he had been a wrestler all four of his years at F&M, and always knew he also wanted to do something big for F&M wrestling. Although Lehman maintains residences in Houston and Denver with his wife of 36 years, Patsy, it wasn’t rare to see him at F&M wrestling matches.
The College on Sept. 15 announced his $5 million gift establishing the “David H. Lehman Endowed Wrestling Program Fund,” which will fully endow wrestling program operations, including funding existing personnel, equipment, competitions, and ongoing recruitment of student-athletes. The College hosts one of only 11 Division I wrestling programs at liberal arts colleges—including military academies—nationwide.
“Dave’s gift is the largest ever to endow an F&M athletics program,” President Daniel R. Porterfield says. “Franklin & Marshall is proud to have an alumnus of the College demonstrate such pride and dedication to sustaining the educational values that have created a tradition of excellence throughout the history of F&M wrestling and all athletics at F&M.”
The College’s nearly century-old wrestling team has competed in Division I since the divisions were established in the early 1970s, and the wrestling program is part of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association. The College competes in the NCAA Division III Centennial Conference for most sports.
Head Wrestling Coach Mike Rogers says the Lehman Fund likely puts Franklin & Marshall wrestling in a small class of programs that are endowed.
“This comes at a time when a lot of programs across the country are struggling, but F&M’s program is thriving and doing very well,” Rogers says.
In honor of Lehman’s gift, the College is renaming the popular F&M Open wrestling tournament that annually attracts nearly 400 collegiate wrestlers from such wrestling programs as Princeton, American, Bucknell and Drexel universities, as well as the U.S. Military and Naval academies. The new name will be the David H. Lehman F&M Open.
Impact Across Campus
Porterfield says that gifts like Lehman’s, which grow the College’s endowment, are “vital” because they benefit the entire College. “Endowing the full operations of the wrestling program allows the College to recapture funds in the operating budget previously used for wrestling, and allocate them to other areas of need,” Porterfield says.
According to Patricia Epps, F&M’s director of athletics and recreation, the gift sends a powerful message to all of the College’s student-athletes.
“It challenges them, moving forward, to not only reach their potential in their sports, but also to reach their potential in life, both professionally and as upstanding human beings, because Dave Lehman is such a great example,” Epps said.
In a recent tribute to Lehman, Rick Durso ’16, a wrestling All-American who finished eighth in the 141-pound bracket of the 2014 NCAA championships, echoed that sentiment.
“I think he has really shown everyone from every program here that … if it means something to you and was important to you while you were here (at F&M), it doesn’t go away,” Durso said.
Robert Ruiz ’15, a wrestler who worked for Lehman as an intern at his company in Denver, said having alumni like Dave show commitment to the team “really allows us student-athletes to not only appreciate the school and appreciate wrestling, but appreciate them and what they've done for us.”
So, hearing this, could Dave Lehman see himself as a role model?
He acknowledges with his typical humility that he may be, but if so, the basic model he hopes to exemplify is simply the importance of giving back.
“I’m at a point in my life where I just thought, if I can make an impact, I should just do it.”