Nearly 10 years ago, Joel E. Smilow ’54 was registering for his 40th reunion when the student behind the table stood to thank him for his financial contributions to the renovation of the old Yale Bowl field house, which now bears his name.
“She had been the captain of the women’s lacrosse team, and she said they had had the greatest year in lacrosse history at that point,” Smilow recalled. “She attributed that in part to the fact that they were using the new field center. That of course made me feel really good.”
In the latest of several generous contributions to Yale athletics, Smilow, a longtime Yale athletic booster, has continued his generosity, donating money toward the endowment of the head coaching positions for men’s basketball, women’s basketball and women’s lacrosse.
The announcement marked the first time coaches of Yale women’s programs received such funding.
“He wanted to support programs that had a lot of interest and were popular,” Athletics Director Tom Beckett.
Mandy O’Leary, the women’s lacrosse coach who will benefit from the new funding, expressed thanks.
“We’re ecstatic, obviously,” she said. “Joel Smilow has been incredibly generous throughout the years in supporting our athletic programs, and he’s always been supportive of not just men’s programs, but of women’s, as well.”
The coaching endowments will be named the Joel E. Smilow Class of 1954 Coach for each of the three programs, representing the collaboration between Smilow and his Yale class, which is approaching its 50th anniversary next year. The Class of 1954, through its challenge campaign, matches the funds donated.
“When I wanted to make another gift to Yale in conjunction with my 50th reunion, I decided I wanted to continue to pursue athletics as a philanthropic niche,” Smilow said.
The addition of the three new endowments means the Elis now have six sports for which funding has been provided in perpetuity. In 1988, Smilow endowed the football coach position, four years before being a major donor in the project to renovate what is now called the Smilow Field Center.
The men’s hockey team and the swim teams also have endowed coaching positions.
“Its wonderful that as Mr. Smilow is approaching his 50th reunion, he’s making a statement of the role that intercollegiate athletics has in the education of individual students and the role it has on campus,” said Charlie Pagnam, Vice President of Development at Yale. “He believes that intercollegiate athletics help develop one’s leadership skills.”
The former chairman, chief executive officer and president of Playtex Products, Inc., Smilow has a long history of support for Yale athletics dating to his undergraduate days, in which he participated in freshman lightweight crew and tennis, managed the squash team, and held the role of director of WYBC radio.
As a graduate, Smilow’s contributions to fund-raising and development earned high recognition. He was awarded the Yale Medal in 1993 and named a Sterling Fellow for outstanding financial contribution.
“Mr. Smilow believes in leadership, and he so generously provides it,” Beckett said. “We are honored to name three new coaching positions after this very special Yale man.”
As the women’s lacrosse team once again enjoys one of its most successful seasons, O’Leary explained Smilow’s importance in her team’s future.
“He now is supporting the coaching staff and the program for continued success throughout the years,” O’Leary said. “And as the programs [he endowed] continue to get better, we’re going to be able to attract the best and the brightest to come to Yale.”