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Ursula Farfel’s Swiss father moved the family to his native country when she was 9 years old, but her mother, a Cleveland native, encouraged her children to attend college in the United States. In the fall of 1950, Farfel returned to the U.S. and worked for two years at The Cleveland Museum of Art. In 1952 she came to Ohio University on a tuition scholarship and earned her AB in German and psychology in 1956.
“I found it very different from Switzerland in the attitudes of the teachers toward the students,” she says. “I remember in the introductory speech to the freshmen hearing how important we were as citizens of the future. It made a big impression on me about the value of the student.” That notion stayed with Farfel, who later earned a master’s degree in German from Rice University.
Dr. Gilbert Farfel was raised in Mount Vernon, New York. He earned his BS from Antioch College in 1953 and his MD from Thomas Jefferson Medical College in 1957. Dr. Farfel began his career in internal medicine in Huston, Texas, and moved on to a small group practice in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He joined the Permanente Medical Group of Northern California in 1964, where he was a member of the Department of Internal Medicine until his retirement in 1992.
The Farfels demonstrate how much they value students through their generosity to Ohio University. They channel their giving to areas where they see the greatest need. “I received a scholarship the whole time I was a student. I was very grateful for the support and wanted to give something back,” says Ursula Farfel. “I looked around and saw that the sciences get a lot of resources from the government, commerce gets support from the business world, but languages and classics don’t get much support.” With that in mind, the Farfels established an endowed scholarship at Ohio University in 1997 that was to rotate between modern languages and classics. In 2000, they established a second endowment to fund both scholarships simultaneously.
In 1999, the Farfels donated a collection of more than 500 printed leaves (or incunables) and manuscripts to the Ohio University Libraries. The collection, which they obtained during nearly 30 years of world travel, comprises pages from books published in the 15th century as well as handwritten manuscripts transcribed before the invention of the printing press.
“We wanted to give the incunables and manuscript pages to a place that didn’t have that kind of thing,” says Dr. Farfel, “where you might otherwise have to get on a train or a plane to see something like that.”
In 2001, the Farfels committed $1 million that contributed an additional $250,000 to each of their scholarships as well as established a $500,000 endowment to support the Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize for Excellence in Investigative Reporting.