One couple’s legacy of partnership
The late Bill Lhota ’64 and his bride of four-plus decades were committed to one another and Ohio State.
Bill Lhota ’64 had been a recipient of several awards from Ohio State over the years. But he was especially touched in July when he learned he would receive the 2017 Gerlach Award in recognition of his involvement and personal investment in fundraising efforts.
Susan Lhota shared that story in September at the Celebration of Excellence, an annual presentation of philanthropy awards. Bill, her partner of 46 years (42 years of marriage, plus their four years of courtship) had died of cancer only a few weeks earlier.
The Lhotas were devoted to one another, and together they were devoted to Ohio State, particularly the alumni association, where they provided support to establish the Bill and Susan Lhota Office of Alumni Career Management in 2012. Bill Lhota felt he owed his professional success to Ohio State: His engineering degree set him on a path to executive leadership at organizations such as American Electric Power and the Central Ohio Transportation Authority.
As Susan Lhota tells it, the couple’s lives changed the day they got a call from the alumni association in 2002. Staff members were interested in nominating Bill for a seat on the association board. Would he accept? The couple loved attending football and basketball games, and they decided it was the right time to become more deeply engaged with the university.
“Getting that call that day opened doors for us to start getting as involved as we were,” Susan says. “And we just fell in love with it. We just really fell in love with it.” Bill Lhota would serve for 11 years on the association board, including two as chair.
When former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee asked Lhota in 2003 for ideas for a successor to longtime alumni association President and CEO Dan L. Heinlen, Lhota suggested he “hire someone like Archie Griffin, who everyone knows and loves,” Susan recalls. “So, he went after Archie, and Archie agreed to do it. They became really good friends.”
About five years ago, the Lhotas sat down with representatives from the College of Engineering, the Ross Heart Hospital, the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute and the alumni association. They wanted to make decisions about how they would create a lasting legacy at Ohio State.
“We had decided, yes, we wanted to leave money to the heart hospital, because my father had died of a heart attack at age 50, and Bill’s father had open-heart surgery, one of the first, at the age of 60. He survived that and lived to be 94,” Susan says. Bill Lhota also was committed to supporting the College of Engineering. “‘I would not be where I am today without the engineering college,’” Susan recalls Bill saying. “He really felt strongly about that.”
And Griffin thought the Lhotas would be the perfect supporters of a career management center at the alumni association, a place where alumni could go for guidance and support no matter where they found themselves in the course of a career.
“Bill said, ‘Oh, Sue, this sounds wonderful.’ And I said, ‘Yes, let’s do it. Whatever they need, let’s make it happen,’” Susan recalls. “And I think it’s doing a wonderful job. They have a ton of business, and people are getting the help they need.”
Looking back on their marriage and partnership, is she surprised at their legacy of paying forward? It was always in Bill’s heart to do just that, Susan says. “I’ve met a lot of people I did not know personally, who I didn’t have any idea he was doing anything for. But that was just the way he was,” Susan says.
“He really was not about promoting himself. He was always trying to help someone else along the road. He was just a beloved person.” Susan Lhota