From behind a closed door on the third floor of a large Houston office building, the strums of a guitar are heard followed by the familiar tune and words to Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield. ”First there’s only one voice, then another, softly chiming in on every other word. Next, complete phrases come from the second voice, because now they’ve made it to the chorus, and Shirley Nicholson knows the chorus by heart.
Sam Houston State University has received a $25 million pledge from Pennsylvania-based Therm-Omega-Tech, Inc. to support the university’s engineering technology components within the current industrial technology program and to establish a new engineering technology program.
The founder of Therm-Omega-Tech, Inc., is alumnus Frederick Pirkle, who graduated from SHSU with a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial arts in 1970 and a master’s degree in industrial technology in 1974.
The pledge is the largest gift in the university’s history.
“Sam Houston State University students who are getting a technical education are learning skills for life,” Pirkle said. “Those technical skills are critically important for America in today’s world. Americans are hard workers, and we’re smart workers. I want the students who are touched by this gift to be inspired to contribute to the success of this country and be leaders in the world.”
“We are truly honored and deeply grateful for Mr. Pirkle’s generosity to and vision for his alma mater,” said SHSU President Dana Gibson. “This remarkable and unprecedented gift is an investment in the future of Sam Houston State University and will enhance the university’s ability to provide opportunities for students to gain invaluable knowledge and experience in industrial technology.”
“Fred Pirkle is a remarkable man who is providing extraordinary leadership in philanthropy at Sam Houston State University,” said Vice President for University Advancement Frank Holmes. “His contribution through his firm will provide a lasting and transformational legacy for the creation of critical programs to serve the citizens of our state and nation.
“It is an extension of an inventive mind that sees problems as exciting opportunities to create new methods and techniques to make our lives better. Others are certain to follow the example that Fred is setting for charitable giving,” Holmes said.
The gift will provide funding for three areas. A portion will be applied toward the construction of a state-of-the-art academic facility and associated laboratories, including advanced equipment and technology, to house engineering technology and related academic programs. The building will be named The Fred Pirkle Technology Center.
In addition, the gift will support a permanent endowment fund, known as The Frederick L. Pirkle Scholarship Fund, to provide financial assistance for SHSU students enrolled in the engineering technology program.
The donation will also be used to establish The Frederick L. Pirkle Enrichment Fund to provide resources for an academic chair or professorship in the engineering technology program and to support internships for students majoring in engineering technology at SHSU.
“Mr. Pirkle visited the campus a couple of years ago when he came for the ‘Centennial Celebration of Agricultural and Industrial Sciences at Sam Houston State University,’” said SHSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jaimie Hebert.
“He was so pleased to see that the program from which he had graduated was continuing to change with society and the economy to produce workers who could immediately impact the Texas work force,” Hebert said.
“Mr. Pirkle credits Sam Houston State University with helping prepare him to be successful with his work, and when he came back and saw what a magnificent job his institution was doing to prepare today’s young men and women for careers in industry, it made the connection for him,” Hebert said.
“He let us know at that point, he would do something significant some day to help us with our mission,” he said.
Pirkle grew up in the Texas Hill Country near San Antonio. Following high school graduation, he worked several years as a mechanic before enrolling in Sam Houston State University.
After earning his master’s degree at SHSU, he moved to Houston and taught in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. He left teaching to work as a sales engineer for Commercial Industries Division and later Eggelhof, Inc. While employed by Eggelhof, Inc., he was assigned to Ogontz Controls in Philadelphia, Penn.
Pirkle left Ogontz Controls and founded Therm-Omega-Tech, Inc., in 1982, to manufacture valves of his own patented design. The company grew to be a leader in the field of manufacturing temperature control valves and devices, gaining worldwide respect across diverse industries. Therm-Omega-Tech freeze protection valves have become the railroad industry’s standard for preventing freeze damage to diesel locomotives, annually protecting billions of dollars of railroad equipment worldwide.
Since then, he has patented more than 20 products, including the BBQ Guru, the first temperature control device for charcoal grills and cookers. His patented products are manufactured in the Therm-Omega-Tech facility in Warminster, Penn.
The Sam Houston State University Alumni Association recognized Pirkle’s career accomplishments earlier this year by honoring him as a “Distinguished Alumnus,” the university’s most prestigious designation for a former student.
Editor's Note: Fred Pirkle lost his battle with ALS on March 9, 2012.