Founder of Thiel College
By 1865, the Lutheran Evangelical Synod of Pittsburgh had spent several years discussing the need for a Christian school befitting the needs of their denomination. Despite their resolve and prayers, no solution could be found.
Thus, it was considered providential when former Punxsutawney butcher, Louis Thiel, asked Dr. W.A. Passavant, D.D., to administer his tithe. Thiel and his wife, Barbara had immigrated to American in the 1840s. A butcher by trade, Thiel invested a huge portion of his middle class money into Columbia Oil, a deal that paid off handsomely. A deeply religious couple, the Thiels decided to tithe a minimum of 10% of their worth to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. In 1865, they presented Dr. Passavant with a gift of $4000 asking him to use it to benefit the church. Passavant’s suggestion that the monies be put towards a school was approved by the Thiels and the $4000 immediately went into a bank where it accrued $1500 more in interest while the Synod sought proper accommodations for their school.
In 1865, the Synod purchased a set of buildings that had been a sanitarium in Beaver County. The school they set up was a boarding school that was christened Thiel Hall, much to the embarrassment of the modest couple who had funded the venture. The school opened in the Fall of 1866 with five students. Each year brought more students and higher goals until, in 1870, Thiel Hall was granted the charter it needed to become Thiel College of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
From 1866 until his death in 1870, Louis Thiel was an active member of the Pittsburgh Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Upon his death, his estate revealed the existence of a substantial endowment from the Thiels to the College that would become available upon the death of Barbara Thiel. When Mrs. Thiel passed away in 1871, Thiel College received over $80,000, equivalent to $1.5 million in 2010. With new charter and endowment in hand, the board of directors moved the college to Greenville, Pennsylvania in 1871.
Thiel College today retains its formal connections with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and honors the Thiels both with Founders’ Day ceremonies and the annual A. Louis and Barbara Thiel Award, “presented to an individual who demonstrates exemplary character, continuity of leadership and longterm service to Greenville and the surrounding area.”