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John E. Morgan—A man of humble but generous means

Harry B. Loder, 76, passed away on May 16, 2012. The story below was written just before his passing.

If philanthropist and self-made industry leader John E. Morgan were alive today, he wouldn’t enjoy reading this article.

Morgan, whose financial support is helping to build the Pediatric Intermediate Care Unit (PIMCU) in the new Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, was an intensely private and humble man, even for projects that most people feel should be publicly celebrated.

“I think he’d like us to say that he used his money wisely,” says Harry B. Loder, a longtime employee and a friend of Morgan who now serves on the board of the John E. Morgan Foundation. “He liked to see people get an education and he also wanted to see them well taken care of.”

Morgan’s business aspirations began simply enough—in the mid-1940s, he and his wife Anna opened a small, storefront sewing shop in Hometown, Pennsylvania, just outside of Tamaqua. At that time, layering in heavy, uncomfortable wool was the only clothing option for staying warm in colder temperatures. Morgan soon developed and patented the waffle stitch, a precise method for knitting that gave rise to mass production of thermal fabrics used for long underwear and blankets. He is often credited with the invention of thermal underwear.

This led to incredible growth for the J.E. Morgan Knitting Mills, which eventually had sales in excess of $45 million and leased office space at the Empire State Building. At the time, the company was the largest employer in Schuylkill County, with a workforce of more than 1,000, and manufacturing plants in Tower City, Williamstown, and Gilbertsville. In 1984, Morgan sold the company to a Scottish-based textile company, although he remained as the board chairman.

The sale of the company allowed Morgan to devote more time to his love of cars. Staying in his hometown of Tamaqua, he established that JEM Antique and Classic Car Museum, which grew to a collection of more than fifty classic vehicles.

Prior to his death in 2001, Morgan began using his financial gain to help others. His generous nature included gifts to the Lehigh Valley Hospital for the establishment of the John and Dorothy Morgan Cancer Center, named for him and his second wife. He also supported St. Luke’s Miners Memorial Hospital in Coaldale and Marian High School in Tamaqua.

Despite never having an opportunity to attend college, Morgan placed an emphasis on higher education. His foundation’s support of Penn State Schuylkill included a lead gift to what became the John E. Morgan Auditorium along with the creation of a trustee scholarship in his name.

Morgan stated his intention to support the PIMCU at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital during the early planning stages of the freestanding hospital, a project that he wanted to help guarantee.

“Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital already offers exceptional care, and soon we will have a facility to match. Thanks to the generosity of community partners like the John E. Morgan Foundation, we’re ensuring that these premium health care services are available for all the children and families of central Pennsylvania. I can’t think of a more important philanthropic goal,” Harold L. Paz, M.D., chief executive officer, Medical Center; senior vice president for health affairs, Penn State; and dean, College of Medicine.

Although he shunned publicity himself, the Foundation hopes that others might be inspired by his philanthropy.

– By Holly Swanson

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