Central College News

Maytag Foundation Recognizes Family Friend and Mentor With Donation to Central College

Featured: Maytag Foundation Recognizes Family Friend and Mentor With Donation to Central College

September 21, 2021

The Fred Maytag Family Foundation is donating $2.25 million to Central College to fund an annual full-ride scholarship program for multiple students from Iowa pursuing a career in a STEM-related field. The donation also will fund scientific instrumentation needs at the college.

The gift, which has created two funds — the Thomas Ross Smith Scientific Instrumentation Initiative and the Thomas Ross Smith Scholarship — will unlock life-changing opportunities afforded by a Central education for hundreds of future students for generations to come.

The initiative will be used to purchase scientific equipment at the college – equipment that is critical to effective teaching and learning. The scholarship will provide a four-year, full tuition scholarship to students intending to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

The first full-tuition scholarship was awarded in August 2021 to Amber Reysack of Ankeny, Iowa. Eventually, the scholarship will be provided to four students each year on a recurring basis.

Through both funds, the Maytag Family Foundation honors an inspirational friend of the Maytag family. Thomas Ross Smith was a Newton, Iowa, native who became an electrical engineer and began working in Maytag’s machine shop in 1934. Smith graduated from Newton High School in 1926 and was a childhood friend of Fred Maytag II.

In 1932, Smith graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, first in his electrical engineering class. During his 40-year career at Maytag, he was involved in the design of many successful Maytag appliances, including the Model E washer, which went into production in 1939 and was produced by Maytag for almost 45 years. Smith retired from Maytag in 1974 as vice president of research and development. He held more than 250 U.S. patents and many foreign patents and was named Iowa Inventor of the Year in 1979. He also co-founded Thombert, a polyurethane wheels and tires manufacturer, and Pyramid, Inc., which manufactures polyurethane drive belts. Both companies are still located in Newton, Iowa. Smith died at age 91 in March 2001.

The Maytag family says this new commitment to Central is about offering the students of tomorrow the same kind of opportunities that opened up the world for Smith.

Fritz and Ken Maytag, sons of Fred Maytag II, and directors of the foundation, are pleased to be able to honor their former mentor and family friend and make a difference for future students pursuing careers in the sciences.

“Tom was extraordinary,” Fritz Maytag says. “His vision and creativity were integral to Maytag’s success. He was a brilliant and critical thinker — an idea guy who created solid things. We see this gift to Central as a chance for Iowa students to follow in his footsteps.”

The Maytags selected Central for the scholarship because “when students at Central learn science, they learn it well and then can be creative.”

Ken Maytag adds Smith would have been thrilled the donation is funding new equipment as well.

“I really like the idea of getting new equipment,” he says. “I was never involved in any discussions between Tom and our father, but you can just imagine that Tom was constantly trying to put new equipment into the budget for the research and development department.”

Smith’s family is amazed at this generosity.

“We are thrilled and so very grateful to the Maytag Family Foundation for this wonderful gift to Central College honoring my father’s legacy,” says Charlotte Smith, Tom Smith’s daughter.

“Tom was always the smartest guy in the room,” says Walt Smith, Tom’s nephew and immediate past chair of Thombert, the company his uncle co-founded more than 75 years ago. “This is a very significant honor,” he adds. “As a co-worker, Tom’s genius was empowered by Fred Maytag — as a best friend and head of the company until 1962.”

Central President Mark Putnam says the gift recognizing Smith’s innate curiosity will be passed on to future generations of students and faculty as they collaborate on learning and discovery.

“The incredible generosity of the Maytag Family Foundation will have a permanent impact at Central. Scholarships play an increasingly important role in making a Central education accessible to all. Along with this new commitment, the Maytag family continues its long tradition of annual support of the college’s Journey Scholarship Fund. This new scholarship support, now for both Journey and endowed scholarships, gives us more opportunities to change the lives of even more students,” Putnam says.

“In addition,” Putnam says, “the instrumentation initiative allows the college to purchase, renew, replace and maintain the scientific equipment that will inspire future generations of scientists and engineers like Thomas Smith.”

The college’s relationship with the Maytag family has helped shape the experience of students at the college for generations. The partnership between the Maytag family and Central dates back nearly a century. With this current donation, the foundation has donated more than $10 million to Central over just the past three decades. In 1990, the foundation helped fund the construction of Maytag Student Center. The building was named for Fred Maytag II, grandson of F.L. Maytag, who founded the Maytag Company in Newton in 1889. In 2016, the foundation also funded renovations to the student center. Fred Maytag was president of Maytag from 1940-62 and was the creator of the Fred Maytag Family Foundation.

“The Maytag family’s new commitment to Central extends our partnership and will be a lasting legacy,” Putnam says. “All of us at Central are so very grateful to the foundation for its very generous support. I cannot overemphasize how much we appreciate the Maytag family’s support and confidence in our mission.”