History-making $5M donation to Millersville University to benefit business studies

Paula Wolf//August 20, 2021

History-making $5M donation to Millersville University to benefit business studies

Paula Wolf//August 20, 2021

Millersville University announced today the largest donation in the school’s history, $5 million, from philanthropists Sam and Dena Lombardo that will be used to renovate Brooks Hall into the Samuel N. and Dena M. Lombardo Hall.

That 30,134-square-foot building, a former athletics venue, will house the Lombardo College of Business, the university’s first named college. The Lombardos’ latest contribution to MU brings their total gifts to almost $10 million.

The university also used the opportunity to launch the fourth prong of the “Imagine the Impossible” fundraising campaign, a focus on campus revitalization. The $5 million from the Lombardos will kick-start the effort.

Millersville’s original aim was $32 million, but when that was surpassed by 65%, the institution increased the goal to $90 million by 2023. So far, more than $80 million has been raised for the campaign, which also prioritizes scholarships, student learning experiences and athletics.

Sam and Dena Lombardo’s latest donation to Millersville University — $5 million – set a record for the state-owned institution. Sam Lombardo is the founder of The Benecon Group and ConnectCare3 in Lititz. PHOTO / PROVIDED

Sam Lombardo is founder, chairman and CEO of The Benecon Group and ConnectCare3, where he oversees 190 full-time employees – among them Millersville University graduates – and 500 independent brokers in 35 states.

Benecon, headquartered in Lititz, is “a powerhouse in the self-insurance marketplace,” according to its website, and has been named to Inc. Magazine’s “500 Fastest Growing Companies in America” more than once. Connect3Care helps medical patients find specialists, facilities and treatment options within the health care system.

Sam and Dena Lombardo also own Lombardo’s Italian restaurant in Lancaster.

Though he didn’t graduate from Millersville, several of his relatives did, Sam Lombardo said in phone interview. His interest in being an MU benefactor grew when he served on the Lancaster Symphony board with university executive Jerry Eckert, who’s since retired.

In 2007, the university awarded Sam Lombardo an honorary doctorate.

The Lombardos’ first major gift to the university was in 2015, when they donated $1.2 million to for Lombardo Welcome Center. In May 2020, they gave $3 million to the Lombardo College of Business.

He began his own business, Lombardo Insurance, 44 years ago, and said he wants to share what he went through over the years – the ups, the downs, the challenges, the mistakes. Those experiences “taught me an awful lot,” he said, and he feels an obligation to mentor students and pass on that knowledge.

He and his wife “were underwater for a very long time” in business before they enjoyed success, Sam Lombardo said. He came from a blue-collar family, and persevered through hard work and innovation, he added.

Dena Lombardo said she and her husband are honored that MU recognizes Sam’s achievements, “and it’s a privilege to be able help our community.”

Lombardo Hall will include classrooms and other instructional spaces “and act as a hub to engage faculty, students, local companies, startups, nonprofits and government agencies,” according to a statement from the university.

It will house marketing, management, finance and accounting programs and include room for interdisciplinary offerings such as data analytics. The renovations to the former Brooks Hall will combine tradition while incorporating state-of-the-art technology.

Lombardo Hall will also include Innovations Court in the old basketball court area – an open, flexible space for job and career fairs, events and community presentations. And there will be a business lab, incubator space, student lounge, Brooks Hall Museum and student study areas.

Built in 1938, Brooks Hall was once the campus’s main athletics venue. It continued to support athletic teams and intramural programs after the construction of Pucillo Gymnasium in 1971, until closing in 2017.

University President Daniel Wubah said that when he came to MU he discovered a need for the business management and accounting departments to have a defined college.

The College of Business, later renamed the Lombardo College of Business, was established in July 2019. Since then, there’s been a rapid increase in the number of students majoring in the business management and accounting fields, Wubah said. An alumni board also has been formed to shepherd the college.

“This transformative gift will establish Lombardo Hall as a collaborative and inclusive campus space that brings together business, entrepreneurship and innovation,” Wubah said in a written statement.

“As we implement our strategic plan … there is perhaps no better project that fits this theme than the complete renovation of and addition to Brooks Hall to be the future home for the Lombardo College of Business … It will nurture student success for generations to come.”