When I first met Madison (Al) and Lila Self in 1987, I had no idea they would be among the most generous donors to the University of Kansas. Truly, the Selfs likely didn’t anticipate this either. Although it has been eight years since Al and Lila died months apart, their influence is felt every day through the Jayhawks who continue to benefit from their vision. With their lifetime and estate gifts, the Selfs donated $106 million to KU, largely to support students.
That’s fitting since Al and Lila met as KU students. They married in 1943, shortly after Al graduated with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering. Their contributions to KU began with modest, consistent gifts to support the university’s greatest needs. The Selfs’ philanthropy grew steadily over the years, primarily supporting leadership programs for promising students.
I knew Al and Lila for 25 years, and I deeply appreciated their kindness, consideration and friendly nature. They loved KU and focused their interest on student success, in part due to many conversations with Frances Horowitz to develop program strategies. She was the KU vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and public services from 1978–1991.
Upon learning of the recent death of Horowitz, I was reminded about her ability to link ideas with action. She was a force for progress who paved the way for KU to become a nationally recognized research institution. With the Selfs, Horowitz planted the seed for the Self Graduate Fellowship. She explored educational goals and campus needs to match their passion for investing in accomplished students with long-term university success.
Once the idea for the fellowship took hold, the couple worked with university leaders for more than 15 years to achieve their vision. Al knew what he wanted to accomplish and often thought about how things could improve. Before a conversation with university partners ended, he always asked, “What do you think?” In 2007, the Selfs were inspired to create a similar program for undergraduates in the School of Engineering.
The couple regularly visited campus to connect with students and share their experiences. Al was disciplined. He never wanted to make a promise he couldn’t keep. He approached the couple’s involvement with the same commitment and passion that made him successful in business. Under Al’s leadership, the once-small Bee Chemical Co. in Lansing, Ill., became an international operation.
Lila was adept at building relationships. She always traveled with Al on business trips, making friends around the world and studying art, history and culture.
The Selfs devoted considerable resources to help KU students grow into the leaders our society needs. Their legacy will live on by advancing Jayhawk leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship far into the future. You can read more about the Self programs here.