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Promises Kept
by MERAV BUSHLIN
Reprinted with permission of The Reading Eagle

Robert Gerhart ’41 always promised his beloved wife Lillian that someday they would give back to Albright. After 62 years of marriage and a lifetime of memories made together, their $1.5 million gift will establish the Bob and Lillian Gerhart Chair in Communications.

Bob & Lillian Gerhart

In the midst of the Depression in 1937, all Robert R. Gerhart Jr. ’41 wanted was to go to Albright College, but he didn’t have the money for tuition.

Determined to get an education, the 18-year-old visited an Albright admissions officer at home and begged for a break. They struck a deal for Robert to attend the city college for $15 a month.

His girlfriend, Lillian S. Livinghouse, accompanied him to that meeting and stood by his side for support.

“She was interested in me getting that education from the very beginning,” Robert said of the woman he would marry in 1941 and spend the next 62 years of his life with.

The Gerharts had planned for years to leave a legacy at Albright – something that would come from both of them, said Robert, 83.

So when doctors diagnosed 83-year-old Lillian with colon cancer this fall, Robert knew that he and his wife didn’t have much time to thank Albright together.

As a former state lawmaker from Berks County and successful entrepreneur in public relations, cable television and the resort hotel business, Robert was able to build a first-rate living for himself, Lillian and their three children.

But the money for a major donation to Albright was never there – until recently, Robert said.

During Lillian’s two months of illness, Robert became determined to make the gift while she was alive.


“It all started with Albright and the newspaper,” Robert said. “That’s the whole basis of my lifetime operation.”

- Robert R. Gerhart, Jr. '41


“Even when she was in the hospital toward the end, I told her, ‘We’re going to do this, Lillian,’” he said.

With her family standing around her bed, Lillian died Jan. 29.

Just hours before, a $1.5 million gift from the Gerharts was finalized to endow a faculty chair in communications at Albright.

The gift was Albright’s largest from a living donor, said Barbara J. Marshall, college spokeswoman.

It will enable the College to hire a prestigious professor for its communications department and to expand the existing program, said Dr. Henry A. Zimon, Albright president.

“I know of no liberal arts college like Albright that has an endowed chair in the type of communications program the Gerharts are endowing,” Zimon said.

Robert said he and his wife wanted to thank Albright for giving him a strong foundation.

When Robert started college, he told one professor, Dr. John B. Doud, that he was going to be a newspaperman. It was a big dream in the Depression era, a time when work was hard to find.

But soon after school began, Doud received a call from a Reading Times editor, who was seeking a cub reporter.

Robert got the job, which he held for 10 years.

“It all started with Albright and the newspaper,” Robert said. “That’s the whole basis of my lifetime operation.”

About the Gift

The Gerhart’s $1.5 million gift to Albright College will establish the Bob and Lillian Gerhart Chair in Communications.

It is Albright’s first faculty chair in communications and the College’s fourth endowed chair.

The money will go into an endowment fund, which is invested and earns interest over time.

The College will use part of the investment earnings to pay the salary of a designated faculty member.

Being designated for an endowed chair is an important honor at a college.

The Gerhart chair holder will design an interdisciplinary program in communications that effectively addresses both the medium and the message, linking technology with journalism.

Previously, the Gerharts established a scholarship at Albright for needy and worthy students.


“I know of no liberal arts college like Albright that has an endowed chair in the type of communications program the Gerharts are endowing,”

- Henry A. Zimon, Ph.D.


Following graduation, Robert married Lillian, whom he had known since first grade and dated since his sophomore year in Robesonia High School.

Lillian played the lovely, gracious wife, but behind the scenes, she worked as hard as Robert, and she supported him in every endeavor.

“Then later she used to say to me, ‘Whatever you want to do, I’m with you. You always come through,’” Robert recalled. “When you have somebody saying that to you, that’s pretty good.”

It was a marriage filled with risky and lucrative business ventures, a political career and world travel.

While Robert worked in Harrisburg and Reading, Lillian managed a Wildwood resort they owned and raised their children.

They were true partners, Robert said.

Lillian and Robert rode elephants in Nepal, slept in nomad huts in Mongolia, climbed Egypt’s pyramids, and just last October, they visited Italy.

Because of the strong basis of a college education, the Gerhart family enjoyed the good life, Robert said.

And although it’s hard to believe his time with Lillian is over, Robert said she lived her life to the fullest.

“That’s the salvation I have,” he said.

Robert R. Gerhart Jr. ’41

Family: Wife, Lillian, (deceased); children, Sara Anne Light, 61; Robert R. Gerhart III, 60; Phillip Alan Gerhart, 56; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Education: Robesonia High School, 1937 graduate; Albright College, bachelor of arts degree, 1941.

Residence: Pompano Beach, Fla., and Reading, Pa.

Professional:
• Reporter for the Reading Times, 1938-48
• Editor of New Era, a weekly labor newspaper, 1948-76
• State representative, 1966-68
• State Senator, 1968-72
• Owned Diamond Beach Resort, Wildwood, N.J., 1966-1986

Other:
• Operated Roberts and Co., a public relations business.
• Robesonia Borough Council president for eight years.
• President of Wernersville State Hospital board of trustees for eight years.
• Former public relations and marketing manager of AAA Reading/Berks.
• Founder and former part-owner of Suburban TV Cable Co.

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