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From coal mines to magnanimity

Mining executive Merl Kelce, a recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, never visited the library he helped launch.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 27, 2002

Or just the Kelce Library, as it was known until 1997, and as some librarians' name tags still depict.

In 1968, UT trustee and Tampa Electric Co. chairman William MacInnes persuaded his friend Merl Kelce, a St. Louis coal mining executive, to help pay for the university's new library. Kelce ended up giving $250,000. At the time it was UT's single largest gift.

In 1961 Kelce won the Horatio Alger Award (along with other notables such as Tampa construction executive Jim Walter and former President Dwight Eisenhower) for achieving success through determination. He had it in spades, literally working his way up from the coal mines to become chairman of the Peabody Coal Co. It was then the largest supplier to the nation's electric utilities. TECO was a Peabody customer.

Kelce never got to visit the $1.3-million library named for him, which opened in 1969. He died in 1970 at age 64.

In 1997, the university received a $2-million gift from John and Derry Macdonald. John Macdonald is the president of JLM Industries, a Tampa chemicals marketing firm.

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