'A Farm Boy on a Detour'
One day last year, a well-dressed, older gentleman approached Pat's Diner, a food stand inside the University of Iowa's Henry B. Tippie College of Business building.
He didn't order a thing, just pushed $500 across the counter with a simple request: use the money to pay for students' lunches until it runs out.
Little did the worker know the man with the money was Henry B. Tippie himself—the 87-year-old UI alum whose $30 million donation to support students and faculty prompted the renaming of the business college in his honor. Why, even the diner was named for his wife of 57 years, Pat.
"There are a lot of colleges that are named for people who aren't alive, but we have a donor who walks the halls and talks to our students," Sarah Gardial, dean of UI's College of Business, said Friday. "Earlier today, he stepped out of my office and went over and started talking to students in the hall. Pretty soon, they were flocking to him.
"He is an incredible role model," she added. "He shows that you can come from a rural, humble upbringing and have the kind of success that he has had."
Today, Tippie is among the top five donors to the university. For him, giving back is what he likes to call "repayment for benefits received."
"I feel like my whole life has been to some extent accidental," Tippie said. "The university provided me a foundation, and without that foundation, who knows what might have happened. I have been extremely fortunate, and that is why I have tried to help the university."
Tippie grew up on a farm near Belle Plaine, where he attended a one-room schoolhouse. His mother used to tell him, "You need to get off the farm and find a better life." But Tippie was fond of the land and tinkering with equipment. His dream was to own 160 acres, which back then could provide a good life for a man.
All that changed when World War II started. Tippie enlisted in the military at 17 and served in the U.S. Air Force in the South Pacific. When he came home, Tippie enrolled at UI, thanks to the GI Bill—support he never has forgotten.
"A lot of my repayment is to benefit those in need," he said. "Without the GI Bill, I think my chance of going to college was just about zero."
Once in college, Tippie plowed through his classes, graduating with a degree in accounting after 24 consecutive months of study. His first job out of college was as a junior accountant in Des Moines, where he lived for a year at the YMCA. Tippie didn't have a car or a social life, but he needed the experience to take the Certified Public Accountant's test. He passed the CPA exam in 1951 and has been a member of the Iowa Society of CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs for more than 50 years.
"If I had to do it over, I would want to do it the same way," Tippie said. "You learn how to survive and get experience and work your way up."
Tippie met his wife while working in Delaware. It was the summer before her senior year at Allegany College in Pennsylvania, and Pat was working at a restaurant where her future husband often dined. That's why Tippie named the food stand in the UI business school Pat's Diner.
Tippie does not dwell on the past or the mistakes he's made.
"I don't believe in living in the past," he said. "You can't do anything about the past, but you can do something about today, which might have an effect on tomorrow.
"When things go wrong," he said, "I tell myself, ‘You just got some additional education.' "
Tippie also doesn't waste time worrying.
"You can worry yourself all over the place," he said. "But what I've found is all those things you worry about, they don't happen. It's usually something you didn't expect or didn't think about."
As for the secret to his success, Tippie recommends two things: take risks and speak up.
"You don't have an opportunity to expand your horizons if you don't take risks," he said. "Speak up and be heard on an intelligent basis. I think it's a total mistake to be afraid to speak up when you suspect something is wrong."
Daniel Collins, a UI professor and director of the Ph.D. program in accounting and the Henry B. Tippie Research Chair in Accounting, said Tippie's contributions have allowed the business college to attract and retain top faculty.
"The reputation of a college depends on how the faculty is perceived from the outside," he said.
"Without his support, I know in my case, I probably wouldn't still be here. I have had offers from other places, and I think that is the same for others."
Tippie's scholarships also bring students such as Ryan Smaha to UI who might otherwise not have been able to afford it.
A 21-year-old junior from Johnston, Smaha, who is majoring in finance and management, has been a Tippie scholar for three years. The financial support has allowed him to take on more academic pursuits, such as working toward a Certificate in Leadership Studies.
"With someone as outstanding as Mr. Tippie as my donor, I want to emulate his legacy," he said. "I feel a greater responsibility because of the fact that I am a Tippie Outstanding Scholar. It has inspired me to do more."
Gardial said there is no question that Tippie's donations over the years have benefited both faculty and staff. But it's his personal contact with the college that has left an indelible mark on those he has helped.
"It is priceless to have Henry Tippie walking our halls," she said. "Money can't buy the impact he has on our students."
As for Tippie, he prefers not to get too comfortable. That's why he still works.
"You get complacent when you get comfortable," he said. "On the other hand, I am certainly better off than I was. I can buy breakfast tomorrow morning and probably lunch and dinner. That's some comfort. But it took a long time."