(Another in a series profiling the Steelers new investors.)
If Horatio Alger was alive, he would relate to Ben Statler. You see, Alger, who died in 1899, was a prolific 19th-century American author whose series of novels were based on the adventures of a particular hero during his rise from a humble background to a life of accomplishment and prosperity.
That's the Ben Statler story.
Statler, the son of a coal miner, is a first-generation college student who initially worked in the mines as a laborer and would rise steadily through the industry until he formed his own company.
Statler was born and raised in Monongalia County, W.Va., and this third-generation miner worked the midnight shift while enrolled at West Virginia University, from where he graduated with a degree in mining engineering in 1973.
Initially hired at Consolidation Coal Co. as a laborer in 1969 while he was a student, Statler graduated from college and then rose to become senior vice president of mining at the company in 1996. He formed his own mining company three years later, and then in 2003 Benjamin Statler LLC and Questor Management obtained the assets of U.S. Steel Mining Co. and founded PinnOak Resources LLC.
Statler is now retired, but he always appreciated the education he received at West Virginia, often referring to it as "the foundation of much of what I've been able to accomplish." And so, in October 2007 Statler and his wife, Jo, donated $25 million to the university, the largest gift in its 142-year history.
The bulk of the donation was earmarked for health sciences programs, the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and a new scoreboard for the WVU Coliseum.
Another portion supports the comprehensive breast cancer program at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, with the purchase of a mobile digital mammography unit, called "Bonnie's Bus,' to honor the memory of Jo Statler's mother, who died in 1992 of breast cancer.
"We hope that we can save lots of women from going through what my mom went through," said Mrs. Statler when the donation was announced.
For this substantial donation, Ben and Jo have been named Most Loyal West Virginians during Mountaineer Week; they were honored with the 2008 Outstanding Philanthropists Award for their "display of exceptional generosity, commitment, leadership and proven records of outstanding civic and charitable devotion to WVU;" they received the Milan Puskar Award for their extensive role in the community; and Ben Statler has been awarded an honorary doctorate degree from West Virginia University.
Ben Statler recently took time to answer some Steelers-related questions:
Q. How did you come to be interested in joining the Steelers as an investor?
A. When I heard that the possibility of ownership might
be available, I had an interest.
Q. What was it about the Steelers that made the team a solid investment proposition?
A. Their history, and the way the organization has always been run.
Q. Before you became an investor, were you a Steelers fan?
Q. Are you a Steelers fan now, or is your relationship with the team more about business?
A. I'm a BIG FAN.
Q. Do you watch all of the games?
A. I attend most of the games.
Q. What kind of a fan are you when you're watching a Steelers game? Vocal? Critical? Nervous? Enthusiastic?
A. All of the above.
Q. What current Steelers player do you enjoy watching the most?
A. I love them all!