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The late Karl Eller’s legacy lives on at UA

1952 University of Arizona Desert
Karl Eller graduated from the university of Arizona in 1952, where he played football and was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. Eller passed away on Sunday, March 10, at the age of 90.

Karl Eller, prominent University of Arizona alumnus and donor, died in Phoenix on Sunday, March 10. He was 90 years old.

Eller was born in Chicago in 1928 but moved to Tucson when he was nine with his mother and older sister, who was enrolled at UA. 

“I was an Arizona kid from day one,” said Eller in a 2011 interview with The Arizona Republic.

          RELATED: Eller opens $5 million professional development career center

Eller grew up in a house just across the street from Arizona Stadium and attended UA after a two-year stint in the military.

At the university, he studied business and played football for the Arizona Wildcats. He graduated in 1952 alongside Joan “Stevie” Stevens, his lifelong spouse. 

Eller donated over $20 million to UA’s business school throughout his life. The school was renamed the Eller College of Business and Administration in 1998 in his honor and shortened to the Eller College of Management in 2004.

Stanley Reynolds, vice dean of faculty and research for the Eller College of Management, shared his thoughts on the impact Eller made at UA.

“He’s just a role model for giving back to the university,” Reynolds said. “He gave back a lot to the university and to the business school in the form of financial contributions, but not just that, he was on the board of advisors for decades for the business school and would come to the university often and meet with students and faculty.”

Eller became the head of Phoenix-based convenience store chain Circle K in 1983 and worked to rapidly expand it. 

The expansion was too fast to be financially sustainable, and the company declared bankruptcy. However, instead of leaving creditors high and dry, Eller repaid them all with interest.

“Once he got back on his feet, he paid them all back. Who does that anymore?” said Lisa D. Ordóñez, vice dean of academic programs for the Eller College of Management. “He paid his creditors, and he showed integrity.”

She recalled when Frederick Smith, CEO of FedEx, came to Eller College in 2016 as the Executive of the Year speaker. She said during his speech, Smith pointed at Eller and stated Eller was the reason he was there that day. 

Ordóñez also spoke on Eller’s sincerity.  

“What I was really impacted by was other people’s reactions to him,” Ordóñez said. “Here’s this head of a major company who says, ‘This is the person that I trust and who I want to support.'”

          RELATED: Families donate generous gifts to Eller

Eller also helped found the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship in 1984, which helps students improve their potential for pursuing entrepreneurial careers and opportunities.

“Karl was a really kind, kind of soft-spoken and very thoughtful person. He really cared about what happened at the university and what happened with students and wanted to see the university be able to give students the best opportunities that we could.” Reynolds said.

Eller is survived by his wife, their two children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“He will be missed by all of us here,” Reynolds said.

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