By the time he was a teenager, David Lucas’ strong work ethic and drive to earn money had set him on a path that would lead to a business empire in Southwest Florida real estate development. As a 10-year-old, he sold eggs door to door in his Pittsburgh neighborhood. He delivered newspapers, sold Christmas cards and shoveled snow.
“I was always working when I was a kid, trying to make money,” Lucas says.
That scrappy entrepreneurial spirit stayed with him throughout his life and fuels his desire to inspire the same zeal in others through his philanthropic efforts. His latest gift to Florida Gulf Coast University, a $4 million
challenge that spurred other pledges to collectively match his, will empower FGCU to groom generations of students who aspire to be entrepreneurs like him. To honor his generosity, the new building he made possible will be named for him.
The three-story, 27,000-square-foot building on FGCU’s main campus will house the fast-growing Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship as well as the Small Business Development Center and FGCU’s Regional Economic Research Institute, all of which engage in community partnerships that benefit economic development.
“Entrepreneurship is what drives this country,” Lucas says. “It creates jobs. Small companies make a big difference.”
As do longtime investors like David and Linda Lucas, who are among the university’s earliest and strongest supporters, with gifts and pledges in excess of $8 million since 1996. Their legacy includes a $2 million gift to establish the David and Linda Lucas Center for Master Planned Community Development and Finance Endowed Fund and another $2 million for The Lucas Center for Faculty Development Endowed Fund.
“David Lucas’ impact is really all over the place,” says Kitty Green, vice president for University Advancement and executive director of the FGCU Foundation.
“Any time there was a real need, and he thought he could play a role in fixing that need, he would step up.”
And in stepping up, Lucas demonstrated belief in the institution, its mission and its progress. As with the many other community causes he has supported – including the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, United Way and Canterbury School, to name a few – Lucas has led by example, sharing his time and expertise as well as his fortune.
More than a dozen diverse businesses, schools and charitable organizations have benefited from his hands-on dedication in the three-plus decades he has lived in Southwest Florida. Adding up his simultaneous terms as chairman, president or executive commitee member of multiple organizations – 31 years with the United Way, 25 years Westminster Presbyterian, etc. – results in a cumulative 141 years of service.
Lucas has supported these and other institutions with $78.5 million so far, often as challenge pledges that inspire others to give and double his pledges and gifts. And he willingly asks others for money; he has raised more than $30 million in direct solicitations for organizations including United Way.
“The thing that I would like to be remembered for is the fact that I have been associated with many organizations, charitable and business alike, that have had a positive impact in the community,” Lucas says.
That legacy will be celebrated and preserved in perpetuity at FGCU.
“David Lucas was an early investor in FGCU, and he continues to make investments that propel this university on its continual journey to excellence,” says FGCU President Mike Martin. “Along with the significant financial support David has provided, his involvement with FGCU sends the message highly successful people are betting on our success.”
Lucas’ involvement started well before FGCU was FGCU. In 1991, six years before the inaugural class stepped on campus, he helped tee off the first annual fundraiser for the then-unnamed university; The Founder’s Cup golf tournament has raised about $2 million for scholarships since then. He served on the university’s founding Board of Trustees and continues to play an active role with the FGCU Foundation.
“You’ve got to find a place where you can make a difference – that’s what makes your life significant,” he explains, invoking one of his favorite sayings: “ ‘There are three kinds of people in this world – those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened?’ We want to be in that first category, making things happen.”
There are three kinds of people in this world – those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened? We want to be in that first category, making things happen.”
DAVID LUCAS, PHILANTHROPIST AND ENTREPRENEUR
Lucas has few peers when it comes to supporting initiatives that improve opportunities for FGCU students and faculty. Both benefit from the Lucas Center for Faculty Development, established with his gift in 2014. The center supports activities that help faculty members grow as teachers, which promotes FGCU’s primary mission of providing the highest quality education to prepare students for success. It’s a ripple effect, according to Lucas Center Director Bill Reynolds.
“Faculty who participate in Lucas Center programs consistently report that their teaching and their relationships with students are enhanced which, in turn, contributes to more effective teaching and learning, as well as overall student success,” Reynolds says. “David Lucas had the foresight to recognize that a young university would benefit from a teaching and learning center devoted to faculty and student success.”
He saw a need for faculty development programs, and he stepped up – just as he did 10 years earlier with the endowed fund that supports The Lucas Institute for Real Estate Development & Finance. The institute was designed to meet a demand for high-quality degree programs that prepare students for the challenges of the highly competitive real estate development industry – one of the most powerful economic forces in Southwest Florida.
“When I think of Mr. Lucas’ impact on FGCU, I think about it from the student perspective,” says Shelton Weeks, Lucas Institute director and department chair of Economics & Finance. “The number of students I’ve been able to work with personally and that we’ve been able to give experiences to, the number of community groups we’ve brought to campus to expose our students to opportunities and career paths in real estate, would not have been possible without his support.”
The Lucas legacy extends well beyond the boundaries of FGCU’s campus, Weeks adds. Across the Southwest Florida real estate industry are countless alumni who have risen to leadership roles thanks to FGCU programs supported by Lucas. It’s a fitting tribute to a visionary pioneer in advocating sustainable development as head of The Bonita Bay Group. Lucas assumed leadership of the family real estate development business in 1984 after the death of his father-in law, David Shakarian, founder and chairman of General Nutrition Corp.
It was at The Bonita Bay Group where Kitty Green first got to know Lucas after she was hired in 1991. He saw a need to encourage philanthropy among his employees, and encouraged others to follow suit.
“He really taught all of us in the company about what it means to give because it is the right thing to do – not because of what you get in return,” Green recalls. “David has led by example throughout this community, and much of it has been done anonymously.”
And he’s done it the right way, stepping up to give when and where it can do the most good. In his own words: “Do your givin’ while you’re livin’, so you’re knowin’ where it’s goin’.”
At 73, Lucas is well on his way to achieving his goal of giving away $100 million, which he expects to achieve in three years. Battling Parkinson’s disease for more than 20 years has been his biggest challenge in life, he says. His proudest accomplishment, though? His part in FGCU’s founding, growth and development.
“What I learned in the development business was do it right and do the right thing,” he says. “That’s what (FGCU) does – it does the right thing and produces the right kind of people. I’ve been honored to be part of it.”