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Playing It Forward

John E. Luth ’74 and Joanne Chouinard-Luth, D.M.D. 

"At Holy Cross, you understand that you have a legacy to leave, a personal contribution to make." — Joanne Chouinard-Luth, D.M.D.

In July, Holy Cross received a record-breaking commitment—$32.5 million— from alumnus John E. Luth ’74 and his wife, Joanne Chouinard-Luth, D.M.D. Their extraordinary gift represents the single largest donation in the College’s history—and it will be used to dramatically expand and enhance the College’s indoor athletics and recreational facilities. 

“They made huge sacrifices,” says John E. Luth ’74 of his parents, the late Louis Henry Luth Jr. and Ann Luth. “While they made a reasonable living, they were never wealthy. We never really had much: The pants I wore were the same ones my two older brothers wore. You make do with a large family.” 

Luth’s father worked, for the better part of 30 years, at his wife’s family’s trucking company; his mother, now 91, stayed at home with Luth and his nine siblings. 

“My father was an executive on the board, but he was, in truth, more of a blue-collar guy,” reflects Luth, who grew up in St. Charles, Mo. “He wore his overalls and got dirty every day.” 

Following high school, like most of his classmates, Luth stayed close to home and enrolled at the University of Missouri (MU), where he planned to study engineering. “Given my background, I was focused on getting a degree and getting a job.” 

But plans have a way of changing. 

• • • • • 

In the summer of 1970, Luth landed a job as a busboy at Noah’s Ark, a local restaurant co-owned by the late John M. Flavan ’53, then a St. Louis hotelier and restaurateur. But his busboy career was brief: He out-bused the entire crew and, by the end of his first day, was promoted to maître d’. 

It was that initiative and work ethic that drew Flavan’s attention and began a decades-long mentorship and friendship between the two men.

A proud Holy Cross alumnus, Flavan became interested in Luth’s academic plans and, after seeing his first semester grades from MU (straight As), was convinced that he was looking at a future Crusader. From then on, Flavan encouraged Luth to transfer to Holy Cross with his financial support. 

“He was subtle at first, but he got pushy over time,” recalls Luth with a laugh. 

“Truthfully, I resisted. I was adamant about not taking help. It was a bit of my family heritage: You don’t take things from others. You don’t live beyond your means,” he explains. However, Flavan’s persistence paid off, and Luth transferred to Holy Cross in the fall of 1971. 

• • • • • 

“I was excited about going to Holy Cross, but I was [still] reluctant from a fiscal standpoint,” recalls Luth. 

Despite his reservations, he was quickly won over by the beautiful campus, the sense of community … and the soccer team. 

A captain of his high school soccer team, he joined the College’s then-fledging soccer program as a walk-on, after a chance encounter with practicing team members. 

“It was a dream come true,” says Luth, who reveled in the camaraderie and competitiveness of the nascent soccer program, which he credits with preparing him for success in the business world. 

“Being a student-athlete, first and foremost, teaches time management, which is a life skill that has paid dividends to me … ,” he begins. “Secondly, it taught me the need to work with others to accomplish a common purpose that isn’t a straight forward march down the field … Third, it taught me the need for endurance—that quick gains can easily be followed by setbacks—so that playing for the duration is as important as getting early wins.” 

Off the soccer field, the economics major fully embraced his liberal arts classroom experience, describing it as “transformational.” 

“My years at Holy Cross … prepared me to think independent of others, to consider my role and responsibilities within the great global community … and [to] further demand more of myself in every aspect of my life,” he reflects. “In particular, the Jesuits taught me to consider the development of the whole person, not just during my years on Mount St. James, but for a lifetime of development.” 

• • • • • 

After graduating magna cum laude from the College, Luth went on to earn his M.B.A. in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1976. 

Since then, he served in the Corporate Finance Division of Exxon Corporation’s Treasurer’s Department; held several executive positions with Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company; and served in several senior executive positions with Continental Airlines, from 1989 to 1995, including senior vice president of finance and chief financial officer. In 1995, he founded Seabury Group LLC, a New York City-based global advisory and investment company, and currently serves as its founding partner, chairman and chief executive officer. 

Despite his busy schedule, Luth has always remained connected to the College. He served on the Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2013, and joined the Advisory Board in 2013. He was a member of the regional campaign committee of the College’s “Lift High the Cross” campaign, and, last year, he co-chaired the reunion gift effort for the Class of 1974. 

But, for him, the best outcome of College fundraising was deeply personal: Reconnecting with the woman who first caught his eye during a Healy Hall mixer (at the then all-male campus) in the spring of 1971—his wife, Joanne Chouinard-Luth, D.M.D.

An undergraduate at Newton College of the Sacred Heart at the time, Dr. Chouinard-Luth, a dentist and nutritionist, attended a mixer that John had organized. The two became college sweethearts and made many fond memories at Holy Cross (The Allman Brothers concert in the Field House ranks high among those!).
 
But, they grew apart and lost touch, until a mutual acquaintance helped get them back together while Luth was organizing his class reunion. The rest, they say, is history … almost four decades of history, but “it was like we had just seen each other the week before,” says Luth. The couple married in September 2013, and they live in Chatham, N.J., parenting Hamilton (18), Edward Avery (12) and Martha (12), and caring for Dr. Chouinard-Luth’s 95-year-old mother. 

• • • • •

Exceedingly grateful for the role Holy Cross has played in his life—and well aware of the critical need for renovating the College’s athletics facilities—Luth had been contemplating making a gift to Crusader athletics for some time. He was also looking for a way to pay forward the kindness of Flavan, who refused to be paid back for the money he gave to Luth more than 40 years ago.
 
So when an anonymous donor committed $15 million toward the estimated $87 million Hart Center renovation—with the promise to give an additional $5 million if total donations reach $60 million by September 2015—the Luths seized the opportunity with an astounding $32.5 million gift. 

“[That challenge gift] drove it home for us: if not now, when? And why not now?,” explains Luth. 

All 27 varsity athletics programs at Holy Cross will directly benefit from the Luths’ gift, which will extensively expand and renovate the Hart Center, helping student-athletes to compete at the highest levels of Division 1 athletics. In addition, a portion of their gift, $7.5 million, will go toward converting the Field House into a state-of-the-art recreation complex to promote the health and wellness of the entire campus community. 

“This historic gift is an extraordinary vote of confidence as we embark on an exciting journey to ensure Holy Cross Athletics remain vibrant and relevant,” says Vice President of Advancement Tracy Barlok. “The Luths’ generosity plays a vital role in cultivating the values of leadership, service, teamwork and integrity that are at the core of our athletics program.”

“This gift is a game-changer,” adds Director of Athletics Nathan Pine. “It will have an impact on all aspects of Crusader athletics—from recruiting talented players and coaches, to improving the student-athlete experience, to enhancing the game atmosphere—and it will improve the overall quality of life across campus.” 

And the Luths agree.

“At Holy Cross, you understand that you have a legacy to leave, a personal contribution to make,” says Dr. Chouinard-Luth, who, in addition to her professional interest in fitness, nutrition and preventative medicine, is an avid social dancer. “Anyone who is more active—because they have more energy, because they are more fit—is better able to contribute. 

“And for us, it’s always about contributing, because that’s where the joy comes from.”