Financial-aid benefactor John W. Kluge, 1914—2010

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John W. Kluge / Photo: Eileen BarrosoJohn W. Kluge ’37CC, ’88HON, an extraordinary businessman and Columbia University’s greatest benefactor, died on September 7 at his home outside Charlottesville, Va. He was 95.

From modest beginnings in Chemnitz, Germany, Kluge rose to become, for a time, the wealthiest man in the United States.

Kluge was eight when his family immigrated to the United States, settling in Detroit; he attended Columbia College on scholarship. Following graduation, he worked at a printing company, served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and ran a food-distribution company.

Beginning with his creation of a single radio station in Maryland in 1946, he built the Metromedia broadcasting empire, which owned numerous radio and television stations and later syndicated rights to TV shows and movies. The company grew into the largest independent television business in the United States and diversified into many other areas, including telecommunications. Kluge topped the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans from 1989 to 1991.

After selling his television interests in 1986, Kluge remained a businessman but also turned his attention to philanthropy.

In 2007, Kluge pledged $400 million to the University — the largest gift ever in higher education solely for financial aid. The donation provided $200 million in financial aid endowment for undergraduates at the College and $200 million for graduate and professional students at several schools. It has been used in part to create matching programs, prompting millions in additional donations from alumni and friends.

“I want to help ensure that Columbia will always be a place where the best and the brightest young people can come to develop their intellect, make something of their own lives, and give something back to our communities, our country, and our world,” Kluge said when he announced the gift.

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