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Family Circle

Siblings carry on a family tradition—building Pitt’s future

Burton Tansky and Eva Tansky Blum

When the Cathedral of Learning was being built in the 1920s and ’30s, the University invited charities, businesses, and individuals to participate in fund-raising by buying a brick for a dime.

Among more than 97,000 schoolchildren to answer the call was Jeanette Neistein, a brown-eyed teen whose family had emigrated from Russia. For the rest of her life, Neistein remembered the opportunity to help build a towering landmark that was, in that era, the tallest educational building in the world. Whenever the University came up in conversation, she would proudly proclaim, “I own a part of that.”
Neistein grew up and married Harry Tansky, a Pittsburgher who had emigrated from Poland. The couple had three children and didn’t have much money to spare; but the Tanskys always found a way to give some of their money to uplift others.

Through example, they passed that same spirit along to their children, teaching them to receive gratefully and to give generously. Decades later, the seeds of community-building planted in the hearts of the Tansky children blossomed as they went on to make their own unique contributions to the same University where their mother’s 10 cents helped a Gothic tower rise in the Oakland skies.

For two of the Tansky children in particular, the family connection with Pitt’s progress has made a spectacular full circle.

Burton Marvin Tansky earned a Pitt bachelor’s degree in history in 1961. A decade later, his younger sister, Eva Tansky Blum, received an undergraduate diploma in political science from the University and then earned a degree at Pitt’s law school in 1973. The two say their University education has been a powerful influence on their lives and their desire to give back.

Affording college wasn’t easy, so young Burt Tansky held down a steady stream of jobs ranging from selling shoes to working in a lamp and lighting store to operating a small fleet of ice-cream trucks. “You name it, I did it,” he said. “I worked my way through, working as many hours as possible to meet my economic needs.”

Loans and scholarships helped his sister, Eva, pay for her undergraduate education. That’s why winning a full scholarship to the law school was a pivotal event for her. It enabled her to continue her education.

“It’s pretty amazing to be able to go to such a fine law school and not have to worry about tuition—that cost would have been a huge hurdle for me,” she says. “From the moment I got that scholarship, I really felt that someday it would be my responsibility to make sure other students who came after me would have the same opportunities.”

Today, Burt Tansky resides in Dallas and is president and chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Group, which manages Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman stores nationwide. Eva Tansky Blum lives in Pittsburgh and is senior vice president, director of community affairs, and chair of the PNC Foundation, the PNC Financial Services Group. Both agree that their Pitt education was essential in launching their successful careers. As adults, the two have accumulated long histories of community service and been honored many times by the University and civic and professional organizations. The two also have been longtime supporters of the University of Pittsburgh, giving of their time, financial resources, and goodwill. In 2006, they joined their sister, teacher Shirley Gordon of Pittsburgh, to support and name the Tansky Family Lounge in the William Pitt Union in memory of their parents.

Now, the University of Pittsburgh is benefiting even more from the Tansky family’s spirit of giving. Although many miles separate Tansky (A&S ’61) and Blum (A&S ’70, LAW ’73), they are collaborating closely as cochairs in the second phase of Pitt’s historic $2 billion capital campaign, “Building Our Future Together.” They are the first-known brother and sister to cochair a higher education fundraising campaign of the magnitude of Pitt’s.

Trustee Thomas Usher (ENGR ’66G, ’71G), nonexecutive chair of the board of Marathon Oil Corporation and retired chair and CEO of United States Steel Corp., was the chair of Pitt’s highly successful record-breaking push to raise the campaign’s first billion. Last June, the two Tansky siblings—who are also the first-known brother and sister in the University’s history to serve concurrently as Pitt trustees—answered the call to spearhead efforts to raise the campaign’s second billion, which will be used to fund student scholarships and fellowships, recruit top faculty, conduct cutting-edge research, and support Pitt’s progress in many other ways.

“Every single dollar is important to this campaign,” says Blum. “We appreciate the large gifts, but we equally appreciate any gift that someone is willing to give, because it shows that person supports the University.”

Tansky and Blum praise the work of the University’s support staff, the Office of Institutional Advancement, and Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. Blum likens the capital campaign to a journey, one that also has been a road to self-discovery. “I feel so passionately about the University and the opportunities that education gives,” she says. “The more I am part of this campaign, the more I am convinced that it is vital to the future of our country to give qualified students the opportunity to learn and to grow.”

Improvements to buildings, labs, and infrastructure are among the many benefits that the campaign is making possible, including preservation of a campus treasure—the Cathedral of Learning, the same architectural triumph that was supported by the mother of the Tansky siblings when she was an enthusiastic teenager.

The ownership that their mother and many other ordinary people felt by contributing to Pitt’s growth decades ago is what Blum and Tansky hope others will feel now. They are confident that, donation by donation, the University will succeed in creating a new legacy. After all, it was their mother’s 10-cent gift that showed them even small contributions can add up to giant results. —LaMont Jones


Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement Albert J. Novak Jr.

Notes from Novak

Over the past few months, I have had the pleasure of traveling with Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg to visit alumni in Seattle, Naples, Dallas, Houston, and New York to spread the good news about our University’s progress.

It has been a wonderful experience to reconnect with Pitt alumni in the many places we have visited. I truly have enjoyed talking with so many of you about your memories of your time at Pitt and your hopes for the University’s future.

The Chancellor took time in each city to give a presentation that highlighted Pitt’s rise in recent years in almost every measurable way. He also spoke of the great possibilities ahead. These possibilities will become realities through the generous contributions of people like you who eagerly invest in Pitt’s future to ensure that the very best is yet to come.

Our new campaign cochairs, Burt Tansky and Eva Tansky Blum, joined us at a few of the stops we made. They both have invested a lot of their time and talent to the University of Pittsburgh as volunteers, and I am certain that their energy and enthusiasm will help Pitt reach its ambitious fundraising goal of $2 billion. I know you will enjoy reading about our brother-sister team in the article here.

Thank you for all that you do for the University of Pittsburgh—your support at all levels makes Pitt’s progress a reality.

Hail to Pitt!

Campaign Watch

Institutional Advancement is committed to reaching the University’s ambitious $2 billion goal. Pitt’s alumni and friends have contributed generously, making our current campaign status $1.228 billion!

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