Generous gifts from Eli Lilly, Eli Lilly and Company, Ruth Lilly, and the Lilly Endowment Inc. have helped to shape Butler University. All are members of Butler’s Cornerstone Society, which “honors donors who have supported the University through their unwavering leadership and cumulative gifts of $1 million or more since its founding in 1855.”
Lilly Hall, the current home of the Jordan College of the Arts, was named in honor of the Lilly family at its 1962 dedication. Major funding for the building was given by Lilly Endowment Inc. The Endowment was founded in 1937 by Eli Lilly (1885–1977), then president of Indianapolis pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company, in cooperation with his father Josiah K. Lily Sr. (1861–1948) and his brother Josiah K. Lilly Jr. (1893–1955). The endowment grew from a legacy of charitable giving that was started by Eli Lily and Company founder Colonel Eli Lilly and has been a hallmark of the Lilly family. The Endowment’s central focus—education, religion, and community service—reflects values of importance to its founders.
Josiah K. Lilly (1861–1948), who first worked at Eli Lilly Company when he was fifteen years old, graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in 1882. He served as company president from 1898 to 1932. Lilly was active in a variety of civic organizations, including the YMCA, Red Cross, and the James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Association. He also served as a trustee for the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Purdue University. His philanthropy benefited such community charities and arts organizations as the Indianapolis Symphony, Wheeler Mission, the Children’s Museum, and the Community Fund. Lilly wrote, “I must confess a little prejudice in favor of Indiana institutions.” Regarded as a “real friend of Butler University,” Lilly was remembered in the Butler Alumnus following his death in 1948. He had been interested in the Indianapolis College of Pharmacy, which was founded in 1914, and he continued his interest when it merged with Butler University in 1945 to become the College of Pharmacy. “His support of Butler,” the Alumnus noted, “was known in other ways through material assistance, although again his modesty never permitted public announcement of such benefaction.” Lilly received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Butler in 1936.
Eli Lilly (1885–1977) was president of Eli Lilly and Company from 1932 to 1948. He served as the chairman of the board from 1948 until 1961, and from 1969 until his death, he was the honorary board chairman. Lilly worked to improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process and to pursue scientific research and development. During his presidency, the company began producing penicillin and other antibiotics. He and his brother, Josiah K. Lilly Jr., also initiated employee relations programs, including one that kept all workers employed during the Great Depression. Lilly’s early philanthropy included gifts to the Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Lilly held an honorary doctor of laws (1936) and doctor of letters (1940) degrees from Butler. University founder Ovid Butler is the only other person to have the distinction of receiving two honorary degrees from the University. Lilly attended the opening session for a workshop in character education presented by the College of Education when he was 85. It was his last visit to the Butler campus. Following his death at the age of 91, Butler was named one of the major beneficiaries in his will. The bequest provided for general maintenance of Clowes Memorial Hall and for the general support of the University. “Mr. Lilly had a deep and personal interest in Butler University, and enthusiastically shared and supported our plans for continued growth and development,” said Butler President Alexander E. Jones.
Ruth Lilly (1915–2009), the great-granddaughter of pharmaceutical entrepreneur Eli Lilly, was born in Indianapolis to Josiah K Lilly Jr. and Ruth Brinkmeyer. Remembered by a childhood friend as having “a lovely laugh” and “a talent for drawing things,” Lilly suffered from depression from an early age and spent many years at Methodist Hospital seeking treatment. She enjoyed an interlude of renewed health with the advent of Prozac, the antidepressant developed by her family’s company and put on the market in 1988. According to her physician, Jack Hall, Prozac “made a world of difference. . . . It changed her life.” Lilly gave away nearly $800 million in her lifetime. Her philanthropy was wide-ranging, benefiting such fields as the arts, education, and medicine. One of her first major gifts was to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis to fund a hospital hospice program. Her love of poetry also guided her philanthropy. In 1986 Lilly established the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize to recognize the achievements of a U.S. poet. Administered by the Poetry Foundation, the award has gone to such poets as Adrienne Rich, Donald Hall, Maxine Kumin, and Yusef Komunyakaa. Lilly also made a major contribution to Poetry, a monthly magazine, and established a poetry professorship at Indiana University. Lilly, whose poems were turned down for publication by Poetry, is believed to be the author of four poems by “R. Lyly” that were published in the New York Times in 1939. Lilly gave $1.5 million to Butler, which was used for library automation. In recognition of the gift, the science library was named the Ruth Lilly Science Library. The Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation continues to support Butler through its gifts.