By From the Lowell Sun
By Matt Murphy
LOWELL -- Charlie Hoff grew up in Medford, one of four children from a working-class family.
Pushed by his father to become an engineer, Hoff graduated in 1966 from what was then the Lowell Technological Institute with a degree in industrial management.
He used the money he earned from summer jobs as a "meat and chicken cutter" and later as a manager at Kennedy's Butter and Eggs downtown to pay the $245 tuition bill and $600 for room and board.
His college years in Lowell laid the foundation for an enormously successful career in business that took him from senior management positions at Polaroid and Gillette to Wang Laboratories and Bausch & Lomb.
And now Hoff is giving back.
The University of Massachusetts is scheduled to announce the creation of the largest private scholarship program in the history of the institution at Wednesday morning's Board of Trustees meeting in Lowell, made possible by a new $3 million gift from Hoff and his wife Josephine Hoff.
The donation, the largest gift ever to UMass Lowell, will help create a $10 million endowment during the next 10 years for the Charles J. Hoff Scholarship foundation. It puts Hoff, a UMass trustee until 2002, among the top 10 donors in the history of the university system, having contributed $5.5 million.
While students at all five UMass campuses will benefit from Hoff's generosity, the largest number of scholarships will be reserved for students with need at Hoff's alma mater, UMass Lowell.
"I really do believe in scholarships, and I believe in the University of Massachusetts ...," Hoff said yesterday. "I get a greater feeling out of giving a scholarship than I think even the scholars."
Hoff and his wife quietly started the scholarship program in 1991, donating $2.5 million with little fanfare to support more than 1,000 students in 16 years. By 2017, the program will have helped more than 2,500 students earn their degrees.
Hoff speaks sincerely and passionately about the students he's helped. He interviews as many applicants as possible, though he said he sometimes has to rely on his mother or brother to stand in his place.
He said he looks not just at grades and essays, but a sense that a student is motivated to succeed and wants to make a better life for themselves.
"Charlie Hoff's tremendous generosity has made it possible for me and hundreds of other UMass students over the years to gain an excellent education, an education that has opened doors that might not have been open otherwise," said Anthony Beatrice, UMass Lowell's student trustee and a three-year recipient of the Hoff scholarship.
The new contribution, coupled with matching grants from the state and university, will assist 145 new students a year, offering $4,000 a year in scholarships to students who might otherwise not be able to afford to attend college.
At Lowell, where the university will give out 60 scholarships, the money pays for almost half of the $8,500 annual tuition and fees. UMass Boston and Dartmouth will each receive 30 scholarships, with another 15 going to UMass Amherst and 10 to the UMass medical school in Worcester.
"Charlie Hoff has made one of the most generous gifts in the history of the university ...," said UMass President Jack Wilson. "He wants to reinvest in students to make sure they have the same opportunity he had."
The scholarship endowment is also a major plaudit for new UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, who Hoff called an "energetic, visionary leader."
Hoff served on the selection committee that recommended Meehan for the chancellorship from a field of distinguished academics.
He said his scholarship program had been "moping along" in recent years, and at one point he envisioned scaling it back to just focus on UMass Lowell students.
After striking up a relationship with Wilson and getting to know Meehan, however, Hoff said he felt emboldened by the new energy throughout the system to ensure the legacy of his foundation for years to come.
"We would probably not be here with this kind of deal if Marty Meehan were not chosen as chancellor," Hoff told The Sun.
Meehan said Hoff is an example of what is needed to help UMass Lowell become a world-class institution.
"Charlie Hoff has really been a loyal alumnus, a distinguished business leader and a visionary philanthropist," said Meehan, an alumnus. "I am so proud that a UMass Lowell alumnus has made such an extremely generous gift -- a gift that will have an enduring impact on this university and its students."
Eligible students must demonstrate financial need. In years past the scholarships have gone to recent immigrants, students from single-parent homes, low-income families or those with disabilities and special-learning needs.
Students must be entering their sophomore year to apply, and have maintained a grade-point average of 3.0 or better as a freshman.
Meehan said it is a good tool to encourage student retention at the university.
This year, Hoff has also changed the rules, allowing students coming straight out of community college with solid grades to apply. Meehan stressed that UMass Lowell must do a better job at providing scholarships for students like these who have succeeded at the community college level.
State Sen. Steven Panagiotakos joined Meehan and Wilson in thanking Hoff for his philanthropy. As a former vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education and now chairman of Ways and Means, he said he knows how important it is for public universities to get support from alumni when state funding is limited.
"Your commitment to higher education is second only to your commitment to people," Panagiotakos said.