Homer Surbeck: A Legacy of Student Scholarships and Support for Tech
SDSM& T lost one of its dearest friends and most dedicated supporters when Leighton ( Homer) Surbeck recently passed away. Over the years he touched the lives of countless individuals, through his generous support of student scholarships and many other campus projects.
Leighton ( Homer) Surbeck ( MetE 24) passed away Sept. 5 at the age of 94 at his home in Atherton, CA.
Homer graduated with honors in 1924 in Metallurgical Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. He then received a scholarship to Yale Law School where he graduated first in his class in 1927.
He was appointed as law secretary to Chief Justice Taft of the U. S. Supreme Court. He later joined a prestigious Wall Street firm and was senior partner in the Hughes, Hubbard and Reed law firm, which he helped to found forty years ago. He was considered one of the leading experts on anti- trust law in the country.
He left the successful Wall Street practice to serve during World War II. In 1945 he received a War Department Citation for service, as Colonel and Chief Justice of Economic Branch, Military Intelligence Service, War Department.
He returned to private practice after World War II and began a long custom of providing educational scholarships to young people at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars.
To date he has given over 1,000 scholarships to young people seeking higher education at various institutions, including SDSMT, Brigham Young University, a prize in geology at Princeton University, and a prize for Outstanding Technical Writing at SDSM& T.
Since 1949 Homer gave Rapid City High School, and later Rapid City Central and Stevens High Schools, an amount of $ 3000 each year for senior scholarships. He also made substantial contributions to furnish Guy March- Math Scholarships.
In addition to his financial support of numerous student scholarships, Surbeck also contributed generously to many campus building projects over the years, including the Surbeck Student Center and the P. E. Building. In 1963 the Surbeck Center on the Tech campus was dedicated in his honor by the South Dakota Board of Regents.
His distinguished career has earned him several honorary degrees and awards, including the “ Guy March Silver Medal,” given by SDSM& T to honor outstanding achievement of alumni. Included among his many prestigious awards is the “ Yale Medal,” the highest honor given by the Association of Yale Alumni.
In 1977 he received the “ Horatio Alger Award” for spectacular rise to success from a humble beginning. Other recipients of this prestigious award include Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Bernard Baruch, Lowell Thomas, Eddy Rickenbacker, Harold Stassen, Johnny Cash and Lowell Thomas.
In the foreward to Surbeck’s book The Success Formula that Really Works, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote: “ I’ve met a lot of people that I’ve come to admire. Some have been great achievers, others are great inspirers. But there is one man to whom I would ascribe the title ‘ the greatest Christian gentleman I’ve ever known.’ That man is Homer Surbeck.”
SDSM& T President Dr. Richard Gowen, who flew to California to attend Surbeck’s funeral, said, “ The South Dakota Tech family has lost a dear friend. Homer Surbeck provides an inspiring legacy of commitment to education, and support for his alma mater. He is an inspiration to us all.”
After 75 years as a confirmed bachelor, Homer met and married Margaret Packard, widow of Gordon Packard, in October of 1976.
Homer Surbeck’s funeral was held September 8 at the Menlo Baptist Church. Condolences may be sent to Margaret Surbeck, 88 Faxon Road, Atherton, CA 94025
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Devereaux Library. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.