St. Louis business leader and philanthropist Dick Engelsmann has strong connections to Washington University. His father, William Engelsmann, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from WashU in 1921. His late wife, Judith Hickey Engelsmann, earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in fashion design in 1965. And for many years, he has actively engaged with the university himself, completing courses and attending programs and lectures across campus.
Earlier this year, Engelsmann ensured his family’s name will be forever linked with WashU when he made a gift to endow the deanship in Arts & Sciences. His generosity was celebrated during an Aug. 30 ceremony to install Feng Sheng Hu as the inaugural Richard G. Engelsmann Dean of Arts & Sciences.
“We are fortunate that Dick has chosen to advance Washington University’s mission through this extraordinary gift,” Chancellor Andrew D. Martin says. “The endowment he created will provide Dean Hu and his successors with a permanent source of support to advance Arts & Sciences’ strategic goals, address urgent needs, attract and retain outstanding faculty, and launch innovative new programs.”
Hu, the Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor, is widely recognized for his innovative, interdisciplinary research on long-term ecosystem dynamics in relation to climate change. He has served as dean of Arts & Sciences since July 2020. He previously was a faculty member and dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“I am very honored to be the inaugural Richard G. Engelsmann Dean of Arts & Sciences,” Hu says. “This deanship will be a transformational force as Arts & Sciences implements a strategic plan that strives to nurture and advance bold and diverse research collaborations, expand student access and support, amplify our public impact, and create scholar-citizens who will change the world in significant ways.”
Supporting the university and St. Louis
Engelsmann grew up listening to his father’s stories about his time at WashU, particularly his involvement with Thurtene Carnival. As treasurer of the annual student-run event, he took each day’s proceeds to the bank. “He told us he was sure he was going to be robbed,” Engelsmann says.
Joking aside, his father enjoyed his days on campus. “He always talked so positively about the university,” Engelsmann says. “He made tons of lifelong friends there.”
Along with his father and older brother, Bill, Engelsmann founded Beltservice Corp. Launched from his apartment, the company grew to become one of the world’s leading fabricators of custom conveyer belts and a top belting wholesaler. Currently based in the Earth City area of St. Louis County, it has satellite locations in five states and three countries. Today, Engelsmann’s youngest son, Ken, and his brother’s son-in-law, Tom Acker, lead business operations, while he continues to serve as chair emeritus.
About 20 years ago, Engelsmann began attending lectures, entrepreneurial programs, and panel discussions about small business offered through WashU’s Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy as well as Olin Business School. “I learned a lot from each session and really valued the input,” he says. “All these exposures helped me in business.”
He also enrolled in classes at WashU’s Lifelong Learning Institute, now known as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers noncredit academic courses to those 50 and older.
His association with the university over the years reflects his enduring love of exploration and learning. At age 25, Engelsmann took a solo trip around the world, spending nearly a year visiting six continents. At age 80, he climbed to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and went bungee jumping in New Zealand.
Beyond his travel adventures, Engelsmann also is an avid reader, according to his wife, Diane Buhr Engelsmann, former executive director of the Special Education Foundation in St. Louis. “One of Dick’s most wonderful qualities is his curiosity,” she says. “No matter what the subject, he’s always interested in learning.”
Given that virtually all undergraduates at WashU take at least one course in Arts & Sciences, Engelsmann’s deanship gift will help thousands of current and future students satisfy their own curiosity. It also builds on his family’s longstanding support of St. Louis institutions.
“I strongly believe in investing in education,” Engelsmann says. “It has a compound effect, much like the value of money that grows mightily over time. And what better place to invest than Washington University, one of St. Louis’ greatest assets and a wonderful resource for progress? I sincerely hope my gift generates great positive benefits for Arts & Sciences and enhances the university’s global reach and impact.”