An Entrepreneurial Spirit
Establishing Endowed Chair in
Entrepreneurial Studies Brings
Life’s Work Full Circle for
William ’49 and Virginia Miers
July 6, 2009
“What I have experienced in my life has been a great thing,” says William “Bill” Miers ’49 about his dealings with entrepreneurs over the years as head of Miers Insurance in Allentown, a company started by his grandfather in 1892. “Entrepreneurship is not limited to business; it can provide a knowledge base that can be applied to other majors as well. My intent with the gifts to establish the entrepreneurial studies program and the faculty chair is to let other alumni know that if they have a special interest, Muhlenberg’s development office can find opportunities for giving that can make a real impact – one that is mutually beneficial. In addition to the psychological benefit of giving back to the College, there’s a tax benefit to the donor as well.”
Muhlenberg College received a generous gift from Bill Miers and his wife, Virginia (Gini), to fully fund an endowed chair in entrepreneurial studies. Miers, a member of the College’s Board of Trustees, is the advisory committee chair for Muhlenberg’s entrepreneurial studies.
Bill’s entrepreneurial spirit was sparked as a child; he enjoyed building model airplanes and kites, inventing a diving helmet and transforming a bicycle into a motorbike. A graduate of Allen High’s Class of 1943, Bill served in World War II in the Army Air Corp Cadet program. He earned his wings and received a commission as a fighter pilot. Discharged in the fall of 1945, he then qualified for the G.I. Bill.
Growing up just blocks from Muhlenberg, Bill met with Haps Benfer. A conversation with Haps allowed Bill to receive credit for his military service. He was graduated from Muhlenberg in 1949 with an A.B. degree in American history. “There was no entrepreneurial studies program then and not enough courses at ’Berg to offer a business degree,” explains Bill.
“Like many of my classmates, I was a veteran with a family when I graduated from Muhlenberg,” says Bill. He joined the family business where his interest was in developing property and liability insurance programs for small businesses that have since grown and prospered. “I got to know a lot of entrepreneurs and came to respect them as hard workers and good decision-makers,” he says.
Fast forward to 1992, Bill retired from Miers Insurance and became an entrepreneur in his own right, starting Risk Management Consultants. Always an engaged alumnus, a conversation Bill had with Dr. Paul Frary, head of Muhlenberg’s Accounting, Business and Economics major that year, piqued Bill’s interest. “Paul had come from an institution with an entrepreneurial studies program. I started talking to President Messerli, Chris Hooker-Haring ’72 (Dean of Admission) and Mike Bruckner (VP for Public Relations). We all thought that an entrepreneurial studies program at Muhlenberg would appeal to students whose families had businesses, as well as students in the arts, medicine and other fields of endeavor.”
Established in 1993, Muhlenberg’s entrepreneurial studies program was one of the first of its kind at a liberal arts college. In May 2004, the program was ranked one of the top 100 in the nation, according to Entrepreneur magazine.
In 1998, Bill and Gini established a Charitable Remainder Unitrust for the benefit of Muhlenberg College and the entrepreneurial studies program. The trust was funded with appreciated stock and provides income to the Miers during their lifetimes, in addition to significant tax benefits. The trust funding was doubled in 2007 in order to adequately fund The William ’49 and Virginia Miers Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies. Bill says, “I want to encourage other alums to take advantage of opportunities like this to explore their special interests with the development office for the mutual benefit of Muhlenberg and themselves.”
In 2008, the College appointed Trish Boyles as the Miers Chair. Trish holds B.A. degrees from Appalachian State University in Philosophy/Religion Studies and English Literature, an M.B.A. from Western Carolina University and received her Ph.D. in Business Management from Virginia Tech. Prior to joining Muhlenberg, Trish was the sole proprietor of her own web design and consulting company for small businesses, and also worked as the Operations Director for a small business brokerage.
Jean R. Simonnet, Muhlenberg’s Entrepreneur in Residence, joined Trish in the summer of 2008 and teaches entrepreneurship policy, capital venture and the entrepreneurial practicum.
“Bill and Gini’s gift of the endowed chair is a testament to their ongoing dedication to entrepreneurship at Muhlenberg,” says Trish. “Bill has been involved in the program since its inception, and as such continues to be a valuable source of information for Jean and myself as we get to know our new community. Bill knows what works and what doesn’t, and who has contributed to the development of the program.”
More importantly, says Trish, Bill is more than willing to pass that information along so she and Jean have a sense of the history of the program as they work to develop its future. “Although Bill has such longstanding experience with the entrepreneurship program at Muhlenberg, he is also excited and open to the ideas of a rookie like myself, and truly supportive of change and innovation in the program – the mark of the true entrepreneur he is,” says Trish.
"The Miers Chair allows Muhlenberg to look confidently toward the future since this decision establishes a continuity and consistency for the entrepreneurial program,” says Jean Simonnet. “Donors like the Miers can utilize their own entrepreneur network to maintain and establish bridges between the Lehigh Valley community and Muhlenberg. Our students then benefit from the expertise and experience of well seasoned-individuals.”
Miers has been recognized several times by the College: he is a recipient of Muhlenberg College’s Alumni Tricorn Award for work in annual giving in 1988; an Alumni Achievement Award for Service to the College in 1994; the Alpha Tau Omega 20th Annual Claude T. Reno Alumni Achievement Award; and he received the 1999 Bruce R. Romig Reunion Prize. The Miers are the grandparents of Sarah Painitz, a 1997 graduate of the College.
“We see entrepreneurship in all fields of endeavor,” says Bill. “After we had made sure our family was taken care of, we couldn’t think of a better investment than in Muhlenberg students. This is an investment that can help change the world and hopefully influence students to become more effective citizens.”
The William ’49 and Virginia Miers Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies is the third fully funded endowed professorship at the College. William Dunham is the Truman Koehler Professor of Mathematics and Daniel Klem is the Sarkis Acopian Professor of Ornithology & Conservation Biology.
“For more information on making a gift to establish an endowed chair, contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at 484-664-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org.