Carthage remembers Trustee Emeritus David A. Straz Jr.
Internationally respected as a businessman, philanthropist, and cultural envoy, Trustee Emeritus David A. Straz Jr. left a deep imprint at Carthage through his unwavering leadership and generosity.
The former chairman of the Board of Trustees passed away Nov. 18 near his hometown of Tampa, Florida. He was 77.
Prominent both for his success as a banking entrepreneur and his deep financial support of higher education and the arts, he served as an ambassador-at-large and honorary consul general for that West African nation of Liberia. He also held the latter title with the Central American republic of Honduras.
Succeeding his wife, Catherine, on the board in 2011, Ambassador Straz served as a Carthage trustee until 2018 — including the last four years as chairman. In that period, the College achieved its largest student body, launched both a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a master’s in business design and innovation, and built enviable facilities like the Science Center and The Tower Residence Hall.
“Seven years on the board is commendable in itself, yet I can genuinely say the impact of David’s service exceeded its length,” said Jeff Hamar ’80, who succeeded him as board chairman. “From record enrollment to a pair of entirely new degree programs and $100 million in strategic campus investments, his deft touch helped the College to reach a high-water mark.”
The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Natural and Social Sciences stands as a testament to the major contributions he and Catherine have made to the College over the past 25 years. Besides that facility, they gave freely toward the theatre program and other campus priorities.
The couple was awarded the Carthage Flame in 2007.
“Given David’s involvement in causes all over the world, his devotion to this small private college immediately struck me as significant,” said President John Swallow. “During my first year here, I deeply appreciated his quiet wisdom, steady hand, and firsthand knowledge of the area and its people as a former president of Kenosha National Bank. Combining all of those qualities, he kept Carthage’s momentum strong and forward-looking.”
Originally from Milwaukee, the young entrepreneur turned a small country bank into a thriving corporation with multiple branches before his 40th birthday. Those Wisconsin holdings eventually became part of U. S. Bank.
Ambassador Straz repeated that achievement in Florida, where he guided Southern Exchange Bank through a period of rapid growth. Those branches now operate as part of Fifth Third Bank.
With business success came a determination to lift up communities across the world. The couple’s support blanketed the city of Tampa, where a performing arts center, a medical complex, and a manatee hospital all bear the Straz name. Ambassador Straz also served on a variety of nonprofit boards, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Respect for the philanthropist extends abroad — particularly in Liberia, where Ambassador Straz received several awards for his involvement in and support of educational institutions. Then-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former Nobel Peace Prize recipient, commended him in 2016 for his humanitarian work.
Besides his wife, Ambassador Straz is survived by their daughter, Keebler. Flags on campus will fly at half-staff this week in his honor.