Charles Collis ’37 remembered

by Josh Koenig | 5/8/14 6:46pm

Collis frequently returned to campus and met with students.
Source: Tracy Wang

Charles Collis ’37, a lifelong supporter of the College, died Tuesday at the age of 99. Remembered by family and friends as modest and down-to-earth despite his prolific accomplishments in business and philanthropy, Collis always credited Dartmouth with teaching him to think and setting him on a path to success.

In addition to the student life center that bears his name, Collis is remembered at the College for his support of academic scholarships and his dedication to making Dartmouth a welcoming environment for all students. His public gifts to the College also include a chaired history professorship and support for numerous student life funds.

“He did not seek the limelight,” his son Frohman Anderson Jr. ’84 said. “He was always looking to give other people credit. His success didn’t change him.”

Each time he returned to campus, friends recalled that Collis would meet with students, asking them about their aspirations and challenging them to succeed. Holly Sateia, the College’s former dean of student life, noted that Collis was passionate about letting each student know that he or she mattered to Dartmouth. When on campus, he would often host dinners with his wife, Ellen, for student employees at the Center and for students supported by the family’s academic scholarships.

“He would remind students, look how I started out,” Sateia said. “He always talked to them about giving back to the College. He would say, you can be successful, and when you are, I want you to give back to the College.”

Sateia, who worked closely with Collis as the Center’s director during renovations to the student life hub in the 1990s, fondly recalled how “Charlie” advocated for students and pushed for the creation of a campus center when the need for such a space was not as widely recognized as it is today. His initial $5 million gift for the Center, made in 1978, was at the time the largest-ever single donation to the College .

“He never forgot his roots,” Sateia said. “He came from a very modest background, and he wanted to create a space where all students, no matter their financial background, would feel welcome and have a place they could gather with friends.”

On his trips to Hanover, Collis would always walk through the center that bore his name, Sateia said, noting changes and sharing stories about how the building had been used during his time at the College.

“He had a great ability to make people feel comfortable and to communicate his passion for Dartmouth,” current Collis Center director Eric Ramsey said. “Right when you met Charlie, you knew that his love for Dartmouth ran deep. He was always looking for ways to make it better.”

Born in 1915 in Taunton, Massachusetts, Collis often began his mornings with a long streetcar ride into Boston, where he attended school. He initially became interested in Dartmouth after learning that several summer camp counselors he looked up to were students at the College, Anderson said.

After graduating from Dartmouth with an economics degree, Collis founded a shoe company, then transitioned into the copper and brass giftware industry in 1942. In 1963, he founded Princess House Inc., a company that manufactured glass and giftware.

Collis was known as a pioneer in the direct selling industry. Joseph Mariano, president of the Direct Selling Association, recalled Collis as a “true legend” who “exemplified leadership not only in the association but in the industry.” The association awarded Collis a place in its Hall of Fame in 1981.

“He was almost a quiet person, but in contrast he was a real lion, a real warrior in business,” Anderson said. “He would do whatever it took — if he had to address a room of a thousands, he did that, and if he had to fix a boiler, he did that, too.”

Collis is remembered by his family for his wit, often displayed in the form of sharp observations referred to as “Charlie-isms.” He is survived by his wife, a supportive force behind many of his philanthropic endeavors, two children and their spouses, a daughter-in-law and seven grandchildren.

“Ellen and Charlie were quite a formidable partnership when it came to Dartmouth,” Sateia said.

In the past few years, Collis remained an active philanthropist, donating to help build a new pool for his local YMCA in Barrington, Rhode Island and continuing to visit the College. This week, green bunting has been raised above the Collis patio in his honor, and flowers have been placed throughout the Center.

His gifts will continue to support numerous students at Dartmouth, including all those who use the Collis Center.

“It’s a social space that doesn’t come with strings attached,” Sateia said. “That’s what Charlie wanted.”