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Book chronicles Eberly's legacy

| Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

It's not common that someone donates $126.4 million over four decades to a variety of institutions and groups for causes both large and small.

But that's what Robert E. Eberly Sr., Uniontown businessman, banker and philanthropist, did.

Eberly, who died in 2004 at age 86, is the subject of a new book. The privately printed "Giving Back: Reflections on the Eberly Legacy" is a love letter to a man whose most telling imperfection may have been his fondness for the quarter slot machines in Atlantic City, N.J., according to Eberly's good friend John Buchanan, the book's chief organizer.

In the compilation of recollections by more than a dozen family members and friends, Eberly emerges as a delightfully generous and public-spirited man who loved to sing and managed to get along with a wide array of disparate characters, including fellow millionaire Joe Hardy and Fred Lebder, a longtime Democratic Party leader in Fayette County.

Eberly was a rock-ribbed Republican.

"Fred had the political clout," Buchanan said of the Lebder-Eberly relationship in an interview. "And Bob had the money."

According to Michael Krajovic, president of the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council, which Eberly created and bankrolled, the duo were an "effective political team in spite of their political differences."

Writing in "Giving Back," Krajovic notes that "Fred helped Bob direct his political contributions so he got the 'best bang for his buck' for Fayette County."

The result was that "Fred got a stronger reputation in the party for being able to raise money, and Bob Eberly got Fayette County state tax dollars that were sent to Harrisburg each year to come back to the county to help people get much-needed jobs."

Krajovic writes that Eberly carried a "heavy financial burden" when Fay-Penn was established, owing to a decision the philanthropist initially was not happy about.

On the advice of legislative staff in Harrisburg, a portion of state dollars that might have gone to operating Fay-Penn was diverted instead into a fund to "build future capabilities." In the meantime, Eberly was stuck with the check for Fay-Penn.

His greatest renown derives from his gifts to higher education, including the tens of millions of dollars he gave to Penn State. Penn State President Graham B. Spanier wrote, "His generosity came naturally and from the heart."

According to Buchanan, Eberly was proudest of the cancer treatment center he funded in Uniontown and his many gifts to Uniontown Hospital. The former bank president said Eberly's largesse came from his father, Orville, who made a fortune that his son "enhanced" with investments in coal and natural gas in Pennsylvania, Texas and Oklahoma.

What goes largely unmentioned in the book is the sometimes difficult relationship between father and son. In the book, Carolyn Eberly Blaney recalls her father, Orville Eberly, as "brilliant, driven and honest."

"He was hard on Robert and expected excellence in performance," Blaney concludes.

Sales of "Giving Back," the brainchild of the late Wolford Swimmer compiled with the help of 30 volunteer proofreaders, benefits the Community Foundation of Fayette County, which underwrote the cost.

Additional Information:

Where to purchase volume

'Giving Back' costs $20 and can be purchased at all Fayette County libraries, Uniontown Hospital, the Uniontown and Connellsville Chambers of Commerce, the Flatiron Building in Brownsville, Centra Bank and Niagara Bank in Uniontown, and the Centra Bank branch office at Walnut Hill in South Union.

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