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From metallurgy to philanthropy

John M. Thalheimer ’55, former owner of one of the largest processors and recyclers of nonferrous scrap metal in the world, died in December 2016. He was 82.

Thalheimer was born in 1934 in Stuttgart, and escaped with his family from Nazi Germany to the U.S. in 1936. He was the first member of his family to earn a college degree, graduating from Lehigh in 1955 in metallurgy and materials engineering. He was president, scholastic chairman, and secretary of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. He was also a member of the Hillel Society, Pi Mu Epsilon honor society, Newtonian Society, Metallurgy Society, and American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
A year before graduating, Thalheimer joined the family business, Thalheimer Brothers, a Philadelphia-based company that processes and recycles nonferrous scrap metal. In 1969, he became its sole proprietor. He sold the business in 2012, although according to his wife Joan, he never fully retired. “As somebody said to me, he had three children, Gwen and Emily and Thalheimer Brothers,” Joan said. The company still operates under his name.
In 2005, Lehigh received a generous gift from John and Joan Thalheimer to establish the Joan F. & John M. Thalheimer ’55 Student Entrepreneurship Ventures Endowed Program Fund. The endowment has provided funding for more than 100 Lehigh students to pursue independent entrepreneurial projects through the EUREKA! Ventures Competition. The Thalheimers pledged an additional gift to supplement the fund in 2015 to honor John’s 60th reunion and to recognize the leadership provided by vice chair of the board of trustees Kevin L. Clayton ’84 ’13P, who was serving as interim president at the time.
“John always said that someday he was going to do something significant for Lehigh, because his four years at the university had a huge impact on the businessman that he became,” explains Joan. “I convinced him that it was far better to make that gesture while he was alive so that he could see the joy and impact it would have.”
“John and Joan’s key contributions to support entrepreneurial education years ago were the catalyst for the preeminent entrepreneurial experiences and curriculum offered to students at Lehigh today,” explains university President John Simon ’19P. “The Thalheimers were Lehigh’s entrepreneurship pioneers. We will remain forever grateful for their support of idea generation, which has ultimately led to company formation for many students. Their legacy will live on through the many successes of our graduates.”


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