Business leader, Navy veteran and Smith School benefactor Leo Van Munching Jr. ’50 died on Feb. 14, 2016, at his home in Darien, Conn. He was 89. Van Munching Hall, home to Smith and the School of Public Policy, bears his name.
“The thing that I remember about Leo is that he had such a wonderful heart and he was passionate about the school,” says Rudolph P. “Rudy” Lamone, dean of the Smith School from 1973 to 1991. “I had a lot of support over the years as the dean, but no one had a bigger impact on me than Leo Van Munching.”
It was Lamone, during his time as dean, who first reconnected with Van Munching. Lamone visited him at his New York office and persuaded him to come to College Park to see the school’s progress firsthand.
“Every time he came down, I had a project for him, and he’d always tease me about it,” Lamone says. “He came through almost every time.”
G. “Anand” Anandalingam, the school’s dean from 2008 to 2013, had a similar experience with Van Munching. “Leo was a straight-speaking authentic person who appreciated hearing unvarnished truths about things,” Anand says. “He and his wife, Peggy, had a very close and loving relationship, and they were hilarious together.”
Anand says that during meetings in Connecticut, Van Munching and his wife often teased each other about their differing political views. “They had a great sense of humor, and we always left these lunches after bouts of laughter,” Anand says.
The school’s move from Tydings Hall to state-of-the-art Van Munching Hall took place in 1993, following a gift from Van Munching. “This gift is my way of repaying the university for the warm welcome and fine education it provided me and many other veterans immediately following the end of World War II,” Van Munching said at the time.
Subsequent gifts supported the Office of Career Services and building expansions. "We are deeply grateful for Leo Van Munching's extraordinary generosity, which has provided a first-class physical space for the Smith community and important scholarship support for students," Smith School dean Alexander Triantis says.
Van Munching made a name for himself in the importing business. “He made the Dutch-brewed beer Heineken and its low-calorie sibling, Amstel Light, familiar brand names in the United States,” the New York Times reports in its Van Munching obituary.
Born in 1926 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Van Munching immigrated to the United States with his family after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946, then enrolled at the University of Maryland.
He graduated from the College of Business and Management (now the Smith School) in 1950 and immediately began working in the family enterprise. After spending a year at Heineken learning about brewing, he returned to the United States to learn the beer business from the ground up.
In addition to his donations to the University of Maryland, Van Munching has served as a member of the Smith School’s Dean’s Advisory Council and as an honorary trustee for the University of Maryland College Park Foundation Board. He is survived by his wife and their eight children, along with 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.