In this world, there are talkers and there are listeners. Neal Lavelle ’53 is a listener. And just as he chooses his words carefully, so too is he conscientious about the institutions he supports.
Lavelle, a family law attorney who practices in “the court of broken promises,” as he puts it, joined his father’s law practice in 1960, the year before he married his wife, Nancy. Lavelle has used his practice to assist his clients, but he’s also used it as an instrument for giving in other ways.
“My law practice just made money more available to me so I could donate to schools and share the benefits of what I’ve enjoyed with others,” says Lavelle, who was a member of Gilmour’s fourth graduating class.
Fortunately for Gilmour, it’s among Lavelle’s beneficiaries. And it’s not alone. Lavelle also supports other schools he’s attended, including Western Reserve University (now CWRU), where he received his undergraduate and law degrees, and Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., where he attended his first year of law school.
“I like being able to help people,” says Lavelle, a member of Gilmour’s Blue and Gray Society. “It’s just giving back a little that I felt I received. You just look at what your roots are.”
Lavelle looks back on Gilmour with fond memories, although to this day he’s not sure why he dormed there. “I didn’t know why I was in the dorms,” he says. “I could have taken the bus [home] right down to Cedar and Lee.”
But he has no regrets about the education he received at Gilmour. In fact, he feels a duty to give to the school that helped shape his intellect and his life.
He’s not the only Lavelle to have attended the school, either. His brother, Brian Lavelle, graduated in 1959 and his son, David Lavelle, graduated in 1989.
While a student at Gilmour, Lavelle says, Brothers Ivo and Francis Englert empowered him to express himself through writing. It was a skill that helped him in college and beyond.
“My freshman year in college, my English teacher asked the class to write about an extemporaneous topic for 40 minutes,” Lavelle recalls. “After looking the assignments over, the teacher pointed out that I was one of three people in the class who could write.”
Lavelle donates generously to Gilmour every year. But he’s just as generous with constructive advice on how Gilmour can improve. He feels the school needs to remain focused on college guidance and placement and must stay faithful to that when deciding how to allocate resources. It’s worthy advice from a man who’s passionate about quality education and making it accessible to others, whether through money or encouragement.
Lavelle remembers vividly the moment one of his clients came to his office to thank him for his help in a lawsuit. She asked Lavelle for advice on what to do about her eighth-grade daughter, who was intelligent but bored and troubled in the Cleveland city schools.
Lavelle encouraged the girl to apply to local private schools, despite their high tuitions. The girl did apply – and was accepted to one on a scholarship. She went on to graduate second in her class and earn a full ride to Dartmouth College. “So once in a while you feel you’ve helped somebody,” Lavelle says.
Lavelle feels it’s his obligation to give back to the schools that propelled him forward through life. Today, if he overheard someone questioning whether or not to donate, he’d have one piece of advice for them: “Be true to your own heart.”
Recently, Lavelle and his sister, Kathleen Heffernan, mother of Matt Heffernan ’93, made a generous gift to the speech and debate program in honor of their brother Brian Lavelle ’59, who passed away last November. Their donation allowed for the purchase of new video equipment as well as a new podium.