The names behind the buildings

A decade or so ago, when Jules Knapp first called the University to inquire about making a gift, he told a Wall Street Journal reporter last Friday, a receptionist misunderstood his purpose—and transferred him to the University Hospitals gift shop.

But Knapp, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side and whose first jobs included paper delivery boy, Marshall Field’s stock boy, and shoe salesman, is nothing if not persistent. The founder of United Coatings (he sold it for $108 million to Pratt & Lambert in 1994; two years later Sherwin-Williams bought the merged company), Knapp eventually got through to the right person, and the conversation resulted in a $10 million gift to establish the Gwen Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research, housed in the five-story Jules F. Knapp Research Center.

The gift’s impetus was personal: diagnosed with lupus in 1981, Joy Faith Knapp, one of Jules and Gwen’s three daughters, was treated at the Hospitals for several years before dying from the autoimmune disorder in 2000 at age 37. “We were so frustrated by the lack of knowledge about lupus,” says Gwen Knapp of her daughter’s illness. “We wanted to find a way fill those gaps, to learn about the disease, what causes it, who is at risk, how to treat it, and how to prevent it. Our curiosity led us to the University of Chicago.”

Now the Knapps have made a second landmark gift to Chicago—$25 million to help fund a ten-story, state-of-the-art biomedical-research facility. The Jules and Gwen Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery—along with the Knapp Research Center and the Donnelley Biological Sciences Learning Center—will be known as the Knapp Research Complex, recognizing the family’s decades of biomedical-sciences support.

“My mother always dreamed that I would go to the University of Chicago,” Jules Knapp told the Journal. Her dream didn’t come true—Knapp attended the University of Illinois before leaving to start his career—but her son is definitely a Big Man on Campus now.


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Photos (left to right): Toasting future discoveries (from left): Jules Knapp, University President Don M. Randel, Biological Sciences and Pritzker Dean James Madara, and Gwen Knapp; To keep the ten-story Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery from overpowering its neogothic neighbors, glass-curtain walls will balance height with translucence and openness; Under construction: Gwen and Jules Knapp pose in front of models and cranes.

Photos by Dan Dry

February 13, 2006