Portrait of a Donor

"As I get older, I appreciate more and more what the University of Illinois has meant to me. Without the education I got there, I could not have done what I did. So I wanted to give something back to the institution that has done so much for me."

Leonard C. Hoeft

The "something" Leonard Hoeft and his wife, Mary Lou, gave to the University of Illinois is a $1 million gift to underwrite start-up costs for the Technology and Management Program (see article) .

Leonard and Mary Lou Hoeft are Illinois born and bred. Leonard was born in Carpentersville, Mary Lou in Sycamore. Both graduated from Sycamore High. After high school, Leonard enrolled at Northern Illinois in 1940 and transferred to the University of Illinois in 1941. He served in the Army from 1943-45, first enrolling in the Army Specialized Training Program at William and Mary, where he took accelerated courses in engineering, then going to Europe in 1944 with the 95th Infantry Division. When the war in Europe ended in 1945, he returned home, married his high school sweetheart, Mary Lou, and returned to the University of Illinois to complete his degree in Commerce. Because much of his work at William and Mary transferred to Illinois, he was able to complete his degree by September 1946, and received his diploma in January 1947.

On the advice of his advisor, Professor J. Fred Bell (Professor of Economics from 1941-66; head, 1957-63), he sought employment at Caterpillar. With the war just over, Caterpillar was returning to peace-time production, and Bell thought there would be good opportunity there. He was right. In October 1946, Leonard started his career at Caterpillar Tractor Company as a trainee in the Treasury Department, becoming a credit manager in 1949. He was assigned duties of a district representative in Minnesota, Iowa, and Manitoba in 1951 and moved his family to Minneapolis. In February 1954, he joined the Caterpillar dealership, Wm. H. Ziegler Co., Inc., as corporate controller, later serving as secretary/treasurer, executive vice president, and becoming president/CEO in 1969.

Ziegler was started as a company in 1914, serving the mining, railroad, governmental, and construction industries. In 1920 Ziegler became a dealer for C.L. Best, a predecessor company of Caterpillar, and Ziegler remains today as one of the long-term dealers for Cat. When Leonard joined the company, there were a little over 100 employees with four stores in Minnesota. Today, Ziegler Inc. has over 800 employees and 14 stores.

The Hoefts have four children, all living in Minnesota. Son Bill Hoeft now runs the company as president/CEO with Leonard continuing as chairman of the board.

Aside from his successful career, Leonard Hoeft has found time for community activities and concerns. For over 17 years, Ziegler has been a member of the Keystone Club, started by Dayton Hudson, in Minnesota, wherein corporations contribute 5 percent or more of their pre-tax earnings to charitable causes. Leonard served on the board of the Minneapolis Orchestral Association and as a trustee for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, as well as a board member of the Fairview Hospitals in Minneapolis for a number of years. He also served on the board of the First Bank Saint Paul for over 15 years.

Leonard and Mary Lou Hoeft

When the proposal for the Technology and Management Program was put before him, he recognized a perfect fit with his interests.

For over 25 years Leonard has been a regent of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, where two of his children graduated, six of those years as chairman. He now serves as a senior regent and is an Honorary Alumnus. The Hoefts established a $1.25 million fund for minority students at St. Olaf. Doing fundraising for St. Olaf reinforced his thinking about education "as the key to so many things in life," and the need to support one's own educational institution in any way you can. Leonard says he always planned to do something for the University of Illinois. When the proposal for the Technology and Management Program was put before him, he recognized a perfect fit with his interests.

"I have been fortunate in what I have. Sharing the proceeds of my success gives me great pleasure," Leonard Hoeft told us. "In fact," he continued, "people who have not discovered the joy of sharing and helping others have not yet lived life to the full."

To recognize the generosity of the Hoefts and underscore the importance of their gift in enabling the university to create this innovative and exciting program, the Leonard C. and Mary Lou Hoeft Awards in Technology and Management have been established to recognize the most outstanding students in the program.

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