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University community grieves loss of Willard Hackerman

Towson University administrators, alumni, students, faculty and friends are mourning the passing of philanthropist and businessman Willard Hackerman.

Hackerman, the benefactor in whose name the Hackerman Academy of Mathematics and Science was established, died Monday at the age of 95.

Willard Hackerman Photo: Baltimore Business Journal

Willard Hackerman
Photo: Baltimore Business Journal

“Willard Hackerman embodied the beauty of everything good that is Baltimore—work ethic, vision, giving back, civility and grace,” said University President Maravene Loeschke. “He was at the center of the Baltimore soul.”

Hackerman built a name for himself as the first CEO of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., one of the most recognized and accomplished contracting companies in the region. When he joined the group, he was one of only three employees; in 1955, he became the CEO, a position he held until his death.

But it was Hackerman’s philanthropy that touched, and continues to touch, the lives of students from a very young age all the way through college. In 2006, the engineer donated $1 million to Towson University through Whiting-Turner. Then-president Bob Caret used the funds to start the Hackerman Academy, which reaches out to K-12 aged youth in area schools and communities.

“Mr. Hackerman was 100% an engineer, and with my background in engineering, we hit it off from the start,” said Don Thomas, former NASA astronaut and director of the Hackerman Academy. “Through his generous donation, we have been able to present programs across Maryland to nearly 100,000 students, inspiring and encouraging them to pursue careers in math, science and engineering. I can’t think of a better tribute to his leadership, vision and generosity.”

In 2009, the Polytechnic High School graduate gave $1 million to start the Presidential Polytechnic Scholarship, allowing qualifying graduates of Polytechnic High School in Baltimore to attend TU tuition-free.

Hackerman’s lifelong passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields married well with Towson’s goals as an institution. “It is critical that we attract more students into STEM majors and prepare teachers who will be energized to teach in area schools in these much-needed disciplines,” Hackerman told Towson Magazine in 2009. To that end, $875,000 of his most recent $1.1 million gift—in honor of Loeschke’s inauguration—supports Towson UTeach, the university’s innovative program that prepares science and math majors to teach STEM subjects in grades 7 – 12.

“From the 50 years that I’ve known Willard Hackerman as a friend, as a mentor, and as a philanthropist, I recognize that we have lost not only a magnificent business leader, but also a magnificent human being,” said Towson University Presidential Scholar Nancy Grasmick. “Mr. Hackerman was amazingly generous, and he gave major contributions to Towson University because… he saw [it] as a place where students could thrive and gain the skills they need to become future leaders in many professions.”

Over the years, Hackerman made several more gifts to the university, through his own foundation or through Whiting-Turner—including support each year for Towsonopoly, the university’s game night and gala to benefit specific programs. And his generosity extended beyond TU to other academic institutions, as well as health and community outreach efforts.

“I guess the best philosophy is that I believe we are here to help other people,” Hackerman said in a 1999 video interview with Johns Hopkins University. “If you give a dollar to help others, the Lord will give you ten back. And that has never failed.”