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Behind the Name: Gampel Pavilion

By Sten Spinella
On March 24, 2014

With the UConn men's and women's basketball teams making their respective March Madness runs, it only makes sense that "Behind the Name" would detail the life of Harry A. Gampel, the man whose name stands proudly as the title of UConn's fabled home arena. 

Born in Hartford on Aug. 2, 1920, Gampel lived a long and fruitful life as a successful businessman and influential philanthropist. He maintained this combination of wealth and charity for the majority of his life.

Gampel was honored with the name of UConn's celebrated arena because of his sizable contributions to and involvement with the university throughout his life. Not only was he bestowed an Honorary Doctorate of Law from UConn in 1993, but Gampel was named a member of the UConn Business Hall of Fame in 1994. He graduated from UConn in 1943 with a degree in industrial management. 

"He was very proud of his UConn affiliation," Harry Hartley, UConn President from 1990-1996, said. "He was a true benefactor and a wonderful, warm and giving person."

A large part of the reason Gampel was afforded the honor of having his name on the now storied basketball facility is the $1 million dollar sum he donated to the building of the arena. Erected in 1990, Gampel Pavillion has been home to a combined 11 national championship basketball teams. 

John H. Casteen III, the President of UConn at the time of Gampel Pavillion's construction, personally appealed to Gampel for economic support when state officials stalled construction of the arena due to doubts upon whether it could be afforded.

"My sense of him was that he was enormously proud of the university and took a lot of pride in having his name on part of it,'' Casteen said after Gampel's death. 

According to the Hartford Courant, "the plaza in front of the pavilion and the student union at the UConn campus in West Hartford also bear the Gampel name, the result of smaller gifts from the family."

After Gampel's graduation he worked as the owner of a steel business - City Iron Works - then moved onto a career as a developer of apartments, areas of shopping and condominiums, mostly in Florida. Awards and notoriety came with this career and he used these as instruments of good. 

It was his work for human rights and his Jewish faith that was most gratifying for Gampel. Taking part in cultural and educational bodies was one of Gampel's main activities, and he received many awards for his service in this area, including the Presidential Leadership Award, given to him by the State of Israel and the Jewish Community and the Silver Medallion Brotherhood Award on behalf of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Gampel also had a vibrant personal life. He split his time between Connecticut, which he considered his home, and south Florida, where he made his livelihood and raised his family. He had four daughters with his wife, Edith, and eventually had six granddaughters.

The Yeshiva University of Israel and New York, of which Gampel served on the Board of Directors, released a statement upon his death, calling him an "outstanding humanitarian, Jewish communal leader, and philanthropist." Following his monetary contribution to the construction, a communication center was named after him on one of Yeshiva University's campuses. Gampel was also given an honorary doctoral degree from YU in 1989. 

Gampel was known to friends, family and acquaintances as ambitious and compassionate.

"The one thing he always said to us [was] that you always give back, that God will take care of you if you take care of others, his daughter, Margo Absher, said. "That, and that he always said to us, 'All that matters is your reputation and your name.'"

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