August 2009: Lewis B. Cullman '37

Erin Reid

Lewis B. Cullman ’37 is a businessman, author, and one of this country’s leading philanthropists, whose extraordinary and inspiring generosity has touched countless lives. His civic-mindedness and social compassion are unmatched.

Cullman was graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in 1941 and from New York University with an M.S. in 1942. He and a colleague orchestrated what many consider to be the first ever leveraged buyout in 1964 when they bought the Orkin Exterminating Company. Cullman subsequently purchased the company that became At-A-Glance®, the largest U.S. manufacturer of calendars and appointment books. After the successful sale of that company, Cullman and his late wife, Dorothy, began giving their assistance to organizations they felt passionate about, and not only their financial support, but also their time and guidance. He believes that people who have been fortunate enough to accumulate great wealth have an obligation to give back in equal measure, and he has done just that.

One of Cullman’s favorite non-profits is the Chess-in-the-Schools program, of which he is chairman emeritus. This organization is dedicated to improving academic performance, building self-esteem, and instilling both critical-thinking skills and the desire to succeed into the lives of economically-disadvantaged children in New York City. Chess-in-the-Schools offers a wide variety of programs that bring chess and the benefits of chess to the classroom. So far, over 450,000 students have participated. The School Program portion of the organization teaches chess to students in Title I elementary and middle schools as part of their academic school day. This past year, Chess-in-the-Schools taught 20,000 students in 76 schools in all five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. The College Bound program empowers youth to continue their education beyond high school by providing comprehensive college preparatory services and chess instruction in a safe and engaging environment. Cullman is proud of the fact that some of these students have matriculated at top colleges and universities, including Princeton University and Vassar College.

Cullman is also a major benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History (Cullman Hall of the Universe), Museum of Modern Art (Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education Center), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New York Botanical Garden, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Yale University, Purdue University, The Joseph Papp Public Theater, Mount Sinai Hospital, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, New York Weill Cornell Medical Center, American Academy in Rome, Human Rights Watch, and Planned Parenthood of New York City, Inc. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the founder of the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Child Development Center in Sidney, New York. Within the New York Public Library, Cullman and his wife, Dorothy, established The Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, an international fellowship program open to people whose work will benefit directly from access to the collections, especially academicians, independent scholars, and creative writers. Each year the Center appoints 15 fellows, who, in addition to working on their own projects, engage in an ongoing exchange of ideas within the Center and in public forums throughout the Library. Lewis and Dorothy Cullman are both recipients of the New York City Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture.

Cullman is founder and CEO of Cullman Ventures, Inc., a diversified company, and a supporter of The New America Foundation, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers and new ideas in order to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States. He is also the author of Can’t Take It With You - The Art of Making and Giving Money and the free booklet, How to Succeed in Fundraising by Really Trying.

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