Alumnus, philanthropist Tinkham Veale passes

Tinkham Veale, a 1937 Case Western Reserve graduate who achieved extraordinary business success and even greater philanthropic impact, died Tuesday in his home. He was 97.

Tink came to the university after working as a teenager in the oil fields of Kansas, and felt a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity. He excelled at athletics and academics, and made gifts to the university each year after his graduation in 1937.

Over time, his vision and generosity touched every part of this campus. He made gifts to support undergraduate scholarships and endowed professorships in medicine and engineering. He also made the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center possible, and, more recently, he made a $20 million commitment to name the Tinkham Veale University Center. Now under construction, that building is scheduled to open in 2014.

In a 2010 ceremony to announce the university center gift, Tink accepted a “Thank you!” T-shirt signed by dozens of undergraduates. That day, one student described the news as akin to opening a long-awaited present, and Tink beamed as he accepted the token of the students’ appreciation. A few months ago, Tink returned to campus for the center’s official groundbreaking. He grinned and waved his arms as the crowd cheered his philanthropic leadership, and later he joined leaders on stage to lift a ceremonial shovel amid flying confetti.

After earning a degree in mechanical engineering, Tink went on to achieve dramatic success in manufacturing, venture capital investment and corporate partnerships.

His work in Cleveland allowed him to retire at a young age. He spent some time in thoroughbred racing and finally returned to the business world, where he had so much wisdom to offer.

In 1960, Tink became the leader of a company that he and his colleagues dubbed Alco Standard. His philosophy was simple: acquire small, privately owned companies, provide resources and strategic direction, and then watch as their new “corporate partners” reaped near-inevitable success. Within eight years, Alco acquired 52 companies and ultimately grew so large that it split into two large enterprises in 1996. One of the new firms was IKON Office Solutions, the office equipment distribution business. Today it is a subsidiary of Ricoh Americas Corporation and a leading provider of document management systems and services.

Throughout his life Tink remained a member of the university’s athletic club, and he was elected to its Hall of Fame in 1999. Tink’s other university honors include the Silver Bowl Award from the Case Institute of Technology in 1980; the Gold Medal Award from the Case Alumni Association in 1982; and the President’s Award for Distinguished Alumni in 1998. Five years later he received the University Medal, Case Western Reserve’s highest honor. Finally, last year, President Barbara R. Snyder presented him with the President’s Award for Visionary Achievement, which recognizes individuals who demonstrate substantial philanthropic engagement with the university, humanity and the world.

When he was an undergraduate on Case Western Reserve’s campus, Tink wrote a thesis about the possibility of air conditioning in automobiles. Some people thought the idea so absurd that they called him a “crazy kid.” Today, Case Western Reserve looks back on a man whose legacy touched literally thousands of lives. Each spring the campus celebrates commencement in his building. All year long, faculty and students conduct research and apply lessons made possible through his support. And soon, the community will be able to gather regularly at his university center.

“You’re going to help everybody,” Tink said in a 2010 interview. “It doesn’t matter if they’re doctors or lawyers, dentists or engineers. They’ll all get together and get to know each other.”

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