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New $1.25 Million Chemical Engineering Professorship Announced

A $1.25 million commitment from The Bemis Company Foundation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, has created the Howard Curler Distinguished Chair in Chemical Engineering the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering.

Named in honor of Howard Curler, retired chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the Bemis Company, the fund, which will yield an annual income to support teaching and research in chemical engineering, will be administered by the University of Wisconsin Foundation. The endowment fund will be used to recruit or retain an outstanding professor of chemical engineering.

The gift was presented in October to College of Engineering Dean John G. Bollinger by Lawrence Schwanke, trustee of The Bemis Company Foundation, and Howard's son Jeffrey Curler, president of Bemis and chairman of the board for Curwood, Inc., a subsidiary of Bemis. The $1.25 million is the largest grant ever made by The Bemis Foundation.

The gift, given in conjunction with Howard Curler's retirement from the Bemis Company board of directors, is a tribute to Curler for the contributions he has made to the Bemis Company. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bemis is a major supplier of flexible packaging and pressure sensitive materials used by leading food, consumer products, manufacturing and other companies worldwide.

"My father was instrumental in reviving the Bemis Company and making it what it is today," said Jeffrey Curler. The company was started as a packaging firm and it eventually turned into a mini-conglomerate. "Dad turned the company's focus back on packaging and pressure sensitive products.

From a financial standpoint, the company was questionable when Howard took over in 1978, Jeff said. "Today, it's very successful."

College and Bemis Foundation members

From left: Jeffrey Curler, Bemis company president; ChE Professor Charles G. Hill, Jr.; Lawrence Schwanke, trustee of the Bemis Foundation; COE Dean John G. Bollinger; and Timothy Reilley, a senior vice president of the UW Foundation. (large image)

Howard Curler served as chief executive officer from 1978 to 1990. Until his retirement in May of this year, he served on the board of directors. During his tenure as Bemis CEO, the market capitalization of the company increased from $94 million to $754 million.

Curler graduated from the UW-Madison in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. He was co-founder and president of Curwood Inc., an Oshkosh company acquired by Bemis in 1965. Jeff followed in his father's footsteps at the UW, graduating in 1973 with a degree in chemical engineering.

"We chose to establish a chair at the UW because my father has always been dedicated to the importance of technical innovation," said Jeff. "His background as an engineer is probably why he's so high on technology. Dad got his education in the College of Engineering and over the years we've hired a number of UW graduates, mainly chemical engineers."

Upon Howard's retirement this spring, the Bemis board of directors decided to honor him with a gift to his alma mater.

"We have benefited from the training that the Bemis and Curwood people have received from the UW," said Schwanke. "We wanted to take an action that would help prime the pump."

"Private support provides opportunities not otherwise available to create endowed faculty appointments," explained Dean Bollinger. "We are grateful to the Curler family and The Bemis Foundation for their generosity. Gifts like this provide the critical margin of quality that sets our college apart and fuels greater expectations and achievements."

The distinguished chair provides summer salary opportunities in addition to an annual allowance to cover the costs of research expenses such as graduate research assistants and clerical assistance, computer time, travel, equipment and supplies, according to the dean.

Arrangements for the gift were made between officials of The Bemis Company Foundation and the UW Foundation. The public announcement of the gift came after a special presentation to Curler during the company's annual awards dinner Monday, Nov. 10, in Neenah.