William Kelsey Lanman, Jr. – Colonel, United States Marine Corps

From contemporary press reports:

One of the Yale University’s most generous donors, William K. Lanman ’28, passed away  in his hospital room in Florida last week. He was 97.

Lanman’s gifts in the past decade have included the construction of the Lanman Center at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, the renovation of several buildings, including Lanman-Wright Hall, and the endowment of two professorships. Administrators said they believe Yale is the primary beneficiary of the remainder of Lanman’s estate, because Lanman has no living spouse and no children. Administrators said they believe the University has already received the bulk of Lanman’s total estate.

Over the last 10 years, Lanman donated $40 million to Yale.

Lanman’s will has not been opened. The will’s contents will be revealed after it is probated in Florida.

Vice President for Development Charles Pagnam said the University will receive notice of the content of Lanman’s will very soon.

The Old Campus dormitory Wright Hall was renamed Lanman-Wright Hall after Lanman donated the funds necessary for its renovation. Lanman’s past donations also funded the renovations of the office of admissions and the history of art building.

Lanman also entirely funded the University’s tercentennial celebration. Administrators had hoped Lanman would be able to visit Yale for the alumni weekend of April 19-22.

University Secretary Linda Lorimer said it is particularly sad that Lanman died during the University’s year-long tercentennial celebration.

“He’s been so supportive of the Tercentennial,” Lorimer said. “It’s sad for me that he won’t be here when we pay tribute to Yale’s most active alumni later this month.”

She added that over the course of that weekend, which is the second of three major tercentennial celebrations, the University will find a way to bring attention to Lanman’s service to the University.

University administrators said they learned of Lanman’s death from his lawyers.

Yale President Levin said he visited Lanman several weeks ago in the hospital. “The Colonel,” as Lanman liked to be known, had broken his hip and was in surgery for three hours. Levin said Lanman never fully recovered from the surgery and developed pneumonia. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, without a funeral.

Administrators said Lanman’s modesty, humor and love for Yale stand out the most to them.

“He was a wonderfully modest, generous person who loved his time at Yale,” Levin said.

He added that Lanman was most proud of his family’s ties with Yale, which date back to the late 18th century. Lanman has two brothers who went to Yale and a great-grandnephew, Richard B. Lanman III, who is currently a Yale sophomore.

Pagnam said he remembers Lanman’s fondness for golf and travel.

“He was a world traveler [and] he won amateur golf tournaments,” Pagnam said. “He was a real character with a dry sense of humor.”

Pagnam added that Lanman really cared that the University be progressive in regard to the curriculum, student needs and student outlook.

Lanman graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School, a separate undergraduate program within Yale that focused on engineering and science.

The Colonel had an outstanding military career by all accounts. He fought in World War II and earned several prestigious military honors, including the Bronze Star and a U.S. Navy commendation. He retired from the U.S. Marine Corps Aviation in 1955.

Levin said that after Lanman retired from the military, he never dreamed he’d be in a position to be a major donor to the University, but successful real estate and stock market investments put the Colonel in a position to be one of Yale’s most generous donors.

Lorimer said Lanman’s example makes her recall the line from Yale’s alma mater song, “Bright College Years”: “For God, for country and for Yale.”

Administrators said Lanman is distinguished from other donors because he contributed a very high percentage of his total wealth to the University.

Colonel William Lanman, In Memoriam

When Colonel William K. Lanman, Jr. ’28S sent his frequent letters to Yale
administrators, he always closed with the  phrase “Best wishes to you, and the greatest to Yale.” Standing by these words, Colonel Lanman proved himself one of Yale’s most generous benefactors and ardent supporters. He died March 26 at age 96.

Lanman, who lived in Tequesta, Florida, made a series of major gifts to facilities at Yale. He provided $10 million for an addition to Payne Whitney Gymnasium, dedicated in 1999 as the William K. Lanman, Jr. Center. In 1995, he underwrote the renovation of 38 Hillhouse Avenue for Undergraduate Admissions, and in 1993, he provided funds to refurbish Old Campus’s Wright Hall, renamed Lanman-Wright in his honor. Also supporting faculty and programs, the Colonel endowed two chairs, one in mathematics and computer science, and one in economics. He donated art work to the Yale University Art Gallery, and most recently, supplied the core funding for symposia, special programs, and publications celebrating the Tercentennial.

“Colonel Lanman was thoroughly dedicated to his alma mater and to the generations of students who have succeeded him here,” said President Richard C. Levin. “His generous gifts and spirited support were a reflection of his love for Yale. Modest by nature, he was honored to be connected to Yale. And the University, in turn, has been honored to count him among its own.” In 1996 the University presented Mr. Lanman with a Yale Medal.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Lanman had family ties to Yale dating back to the 18th century, beginning with U.S. Senator James Lanman, Class of 1788. His brothers—the late Henry R. ’32S and Jonathan T. ’40, ’43 M.D.—also attended Yale, in addition to a cousin and a nephew. During his own years in New Haven, the Colonel served as captain of the golf team and was awarded the MacDonald Cup. He went on to a distinguished military career, retiring as a decorated Naval and Marine Corps aviator in 1955. He later took up real estate and investment management.

Lanman was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Published Tuesday, February 6, 2001
The money behind Yale’s 300th
YDN Staff Reporter

This October Colonel William K. Lanman ’28 will celebrate his 97th birthday. But he is devoting his energies to older things — like helping Yale ring in its 300th birthday in style.

Three years ago, Lanman donated enough money to the University to fund the entire yearlong tercentennial celebration, which culminates with a weekend extravaganza in October. His gift has made everything possible from the bulldog paw prints on the ground at Opening Yale 300 to the Web broadcasting of the Devane lecture series. University officials would only say that the gift total was under $10 million, but said the colonel’s gift was a near perfect match with the celebration’s cost.

Lanman has already showered the University with many gifts. Past donations have funded the new Lanman Center at Payne Whitney Gymnasium and the renovation of the Lanman-Wright Hall on Old Campus.

The Lanman connection to Yale is almost as old as the university itself. The colonel’s first relative to attend Yale graduated in 1778, and several other family members graduated from the University throughout the 19th century. He has two brothers who went to Yale and a great-grandnephew, Richard B. Lanman III, who is currently a sophomore.

William Lanman graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School. In the University’s early years Sheffield was a separate undergraduate program focused on engineering and science.

Vice President for Development Charles Pagnam said Lanman’s family history made him a natural choice to approach about tercentennial funding.

“[Lanman’s] interest in Yale is very deep, and he appreciates his family’s long involvement with the University,” Pagnam said.

The colonel — as he likes to be called — had an outstanding military career by all accounts. He fought in World War II and earned several prestigious military honors, including a Bronze Star and a U.S. Navy commendation. He retired from the U.S. Marine Corps Aviation in 1955.

He went on to become an investor in equity markets and real estate and currently lives in Florida.

Lanman could not be reached for comment.

Administrators said they had always hoped to secure funds from alumni to pay for tercentennial events.

“We originally thought we’d need to find several donors,” Yale President Richard Levin said.

Levin said he was surprised the University found a single donor to pay for the 300th birthday celebration, which runs from October 2000 to October 2001.

Lanman’s most recent donation to the University was just a general gift — not initially designated for tercentennial events.

About two years ago, Yale officials asked him if they could use the money for the birthday bash. University Secretary Linda Lorimer said Lanman was very receptive to the idea.

“[Lanman] is very committed to making sure the University’s anniversary is not shortchanged,” Lorimer said.

Among the many things Lanman’s gift funds are the catering at each event, the salaries of the tercentennial staffers and all special publications.

University officials said while Lanman’s gift covers most of the expenses of this celebratory year, some lectures, exhibits and programs are funded by other sources.

At 96, Lanman has not been able to attend any tercentennial events yet. But Levin said Lanman is “pretty robust,” and he is hopeful that the colonel will be able to attend the April celebration dedicated to alumni and the closing ceremony in October. Lanman’s last visit to campus was for the dedication of the Lanman Center in 1999.

The University has recognized Lanman’s contributions on every tercentennial publication.

But Yale officials said Lanman is not primarily interested in being recognized by the University for his contributions, and that he is the one thanking Yale for everything the school has done for him.


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