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Marshall benefactor Weisberg dies at 88

Nov. 24, 2012 @ 09:45 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Art Weisberg, a regional business leader and a major benefactor of Marshall University, died Saturday at Cabell Huntington Hospital at age 88.

Weisberg started State Electric Supply Co. in Huntington in the 1950s and built the company into a well-known retail-wholesale distributor with showroom and warehouse facilities in six states.

His success in business led he and his wife, Joan, to become generous donors to Marshall, and two engineering buildings are named for him -- the Arthur Weisberg Family Engineering Laboratories and the new Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex, which is under construction.

"I and the entire Marshall University community are deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Arthur Weisberg," said Marshall President Stephen Kopp in a statement. "I consider Art a dear friend and mentor, and I've been so fortunate to have known him. I have especially cherished the time we shared together. He was never short on kind words and always willing to share his advice and wisdom -- just two of the noble attributes that define this remarkable man.

"Art and the entire Weisberg family have left an indelible imprint on this university through their support of our academic programs and willingness to give back to the community they so dearly love," Kopp said.

Weisberg and his family have given substantial gifts to the university, though he never wanted to publicize the amounts because he thought the intention of the gift was more important. That was just part of his character, said Clarence Martin, the chief executive officer of State Electric.

"People like me and folks around me who have worked with him for years probably wouldn't be here today if we didn't subscribe to some of his same philosophies," said Martin, who was at Weisberg's bedside when he passed away. "He was more than an employer. He was a friend and a mentor. He was always a cheerleader and a leader.

"He started with nothing and built the business we have today," Martin said.

Weisberg, who was an electrical engineer, also believed that having an education was the foundation for success in life.

"He believed in making an investment in higher education and knew that investment would make an impact in the future," said Ron Area, chief executive officer for the Marshall University Foundation. "That was the reason he decided to stay in West Virginia and Huntington. This is where he started, and that's why he believed in so much making an investment, particularly in engineering."

Weisberg was able to take part in the groundbreaking of the engineering complex last month and also served as grand marshal in Marshall's homecoming parade. It was a fitting sendoff for a man who many said had a hand in bringing the engineering program back to Marshall. In 2006, he and his wife gave $2.5 million to the university, five months after the board of governors approved the bachelor's degree program in engineering.

The Weisberg Family Engineering Laboratories has lab and classroom space, while the new complex will house six different academic components and programs, including the College of Information Technology and Engineering and its divisions of engineering, computer science, applied science and technology; Mechanical, Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering Research Laboratories; Departments of Mathematics and Computational Science; Computer Modeling and Digital Imaging/ Simulation Resource Facility; Transportation Research Corporation; and the Marshall University Research Corp.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Weisberg graduated from City College of New York with a degree in electrical engineering. He took a job with Halstead Industries to build a steel mill in New Haven, W.Va. In 1952, after serving in World War II, with a bankroll of $2,500, Weisberg hit the road, calling on "mom-and-pop" grocery and hardware stores, selling light bulbs, extension cords and fuses from the back of his truck, according to his book, "Call Me Art," which was published earlier this year.

Today, State Electric has grown into one of America's top and best known electrical distributors and is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Under the corporate umbrella of Arthur's Enterprises, Weisberg established a specialty wire manufacturing company, Service Wire Inc., in 1968. Service Wire offers an expanding line of products to customers around the world.

Mike Perry, co-founder of Heritage Farm Museum and Village and an emeritus member of the Marshall University Board of Governors, knew Weisberg for years, going back to Perry's days as a banker and lawyer. He said Weisberg received financial advice that he would save a substantial amount of money to relocate his business. But, Perry said, Weisberg was firm in his stance to remain in Huntington.

"What's even more remarkable is that this is not a hometown boy. He adopted us," Perry said. "Thankfully, he adopted us."

Perry spoke at the groundbreaking for the engineering complex last month and said it was special that Weisberg could be there. He called it a fitting sendoff for a man whose gift could help transform the city and university.

"Hopefully, it will enable us to retain some of the brightest and attract some of the brightest, like Art," Perry said.

Even after State Electric became a well-known business in the industry, he remained "fiercely loyal to Huntington and Marshall," said Mark Bugher, president and chief executive officer of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"He was certainly an example of how you can succeed in Huntington and do well," Bugher said.

Weisberg received the Charles D. Scott Distinguished Career Award from the American Wire Industry, and the "Citizen of the Year" award from The Herald-Dispatch. He and Joan were named to the Marshall University College of Business Hall of Fame and, in 2008, both received Marshall's honorary Doctor of Humane letters degree, the highest recognition provided by the university. He also was voted to Huntington's Wall of Fame in 1995.

Funeral service will be Monday, Nov. 26, noon at B'nai Sholom, 949 10th Avenue, Huntington. Visitation will be at the temple beginning at 11 a.m.