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'A Chain of Giving'
Inspired by his benefactors, Michael Rashes, '94, creates his own legacy
Michael Rashes got "one of the luckiest breaks of my life" when he arrived at Stanford in 1990 and met Professor Elliott Levinthal and his wife, Rhoda.
Rashes was far from his home in New York when he was introduced to the Levinthals, who had made the same journey in the 1940s and knew what it took to pull up stakes and head west. Happily taking the freshman under their wings, the couple offered him the financial support to attend Stanford—and, just as important, the guidance and friendship he needed to thrive.
Rashes has never forgotten it.
"The Levinthals understood that as great as Stanford is, it's a difficult decision to leave your family and move thousands of miles away. Their kindness made me appreciate the impact someone else can have on your life," he says. "It was incredibly meaningful to me."
Inspired by the Levinthals, Rashes and his wife, Dena, have established the Rashes Family Undergraduate Scholarship. The way he sees it, the university "offers a great foundation to do great things," and he now has the means to follow in his benefactors' footsteps.
Rashes wasn't the only recipient of the Levinthals' generosity; the mechanical engineering professor and his wife were lifelong philanthropists who helped many other students over the course of 60-some years. They also were generous contributors to the arts, athletics, and the Cantor Art Museum, and in 2000 they established the Elliott and Rhoda Levinthal Creative Writing Tutorial Fund.
The Levinthals' desire to offer Stanford to as many young people as they could—including their own four children, all of whom earned degrees from Stanford—made a lasting impression on Rashes.
"Nothing else compares with Stanford. It is so unique and there is so much to offer no matter what your interests," says Rashes, who now has four children of his own. "Dena and I decided to pay it forward."
Elliott Levinthal, PhD '50, who died in 2012, understood the doors that Stanford could open. He was a founding employee of Varian Associates, one of the valley's first high-tech companies; he designed experimental missions to Mars for NASA; and when he joined Stanford, he developed computer systems for the Medical Center. Later, as a professor in the School of Engineering, he arranged an internship for Rashes with Gravity Probe B, a joint project between Stanford and NASA.
The Levinthals also opened their home to the young student, frequently inviting Rashes over for home-cooked meals to talk about his future. "They couldn't have been lovelier," he says.
Rhoda Levinthal, too, has fond memories of Rashes and calls him "our star."
After graduation, Rashes returned to the East Coast, eventually becoming a principal at Bracebridge Capital in Boston, and began his own tradition of giving to Stanford. His first gift was $19.94, a nod to his graduation year. He frequently returned to visit his alma mater, always stopping to see the Levinthals first.
At his 20th class reunion last fall, Rashes had the opportunity to meet Emma Hartung, '17, the current recipient of the Rashes Family Undergraduate Scholarship. The two discovered they had much in common: Both grew up in New York, attended the same high school, learned math from the same teacher, and practiced the same faith. Most poignantly, they had both dreamed about attending Stanford and achieved it because of the generosity of others.
Hartung says she enjoyed hearing about the connection between her benefactors and the Levinthals.
"It's so cool and so inspiring," she says. "It's a chain of giving, and I want to do it justice, too."
Elliott Levinthal was considered a Silicon Valley pioneer and in 1953 founded his own company, Levinthal Electronics Products, which developed some of the first defibrillators, pacemakers, and cardiac monitors.