NET WORTH: $2 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Inherited, investments, co-trustee of H.O. Hirt Trusts
FUNDING AREAS: Higher education, Arts, Youth Services, Human Services, Community and Economic Development
OVERVIEW: Much of Susan Hirt Hagen’s philanthropic dollars go to the Chautauqua Foundation, however, she does make room for other worthy causes.
BACKGROUND: Susan Hirt Hagen’s father, Henry O. Hirt, founded Erie Indemnity Company in 1925. The company has since grown to be the third-largest insurance company in Pennsylvania and one of the largest auto insurers in the United States. Hagen became the first female board member of Erie Indemnity in 1980 and is the company’s longest serving director. When Henry Hirt died, she became the beneficiary of one of the two family trusts, which own controlling interest of Erie Indemnity. Her brother, Frank, became beneficiary of the second trust. Frank Hagen passed away in 2012, leaving Susan with the majority stake in Erie Indemnity.
Susan attended Wittenberg University, a liberal arts college in Ohio, receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University in 2011. When she returned to her hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, Susan became a strong advocate for youth-based programs such as SafeNet, a domestic violence victim services organization; the Boys and girls Club of Erie County; and the Ophelia Project, an anti-bullying organization.
Susan has also served on the boards of the Chautauqua Institution, Wittenberg University, the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and the Erie Community Foundation. Both Wittenberg and the Chautauqua Institution play a big role in Hagen’s philanthropy.
HIGHER EDUCATION: Wittenberg University has, to date, been the largest recipient of Hagen’s higher ed donation dollars. In recent years, Hagen made a handful of $100,000 gifts to the school on an annual basis. In 2011, she made the largest gift the school has received to date: a $6 million donation to the university’s endowment fund. According to the school, the funds will go toward operating support of the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Civic and Urban Engagement—formerly known as the Wittenberg Center for Civic and Urban Engagement.
Wittenberg may get a good share of Hagen’s higher education dollars, but not all. Susan Hagen is a founder of Penn State Erie’s Behrend College Center for Organizational Research and Evaluation (CORE). CORE focuses on promoting healthy youth development, addressing youth homelessness and teen pregnancy prevention.
Hagen’s interest in curbing teen pregnancy began when she was a social worker in Cleveland, Ohio. During that time, she met a 13-year-old pregnant teenager whom she was charged with taking to court so the girl could get permission to marry the baby’s father. According to Hagen, she “couldn’t stop asking (herself) what kind of future was ahead for this family. When children have children, the impact can last for generations.” When Hagen returned to Erie, Pennsylvania, she became a community leader and was asked, among other things, to tackle the issue of teen pregnancy. It was the Behrend College’s staff that reportedly impressed her the most. In 2008, after making a donation that is only described as “a major gift,” the college renamed the center the Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Organizational Research and Evaluation.
Hagen has also lent her support to Gannon University, Cedar Crest College, Pennsylvania State University and Edinboro University of Pennsylvania over the years.
CHAUTAUQUA FOUNDATION: The vast majority of Susan Hirt Hagen’s philanthropy is centered on the New York-based Chautauqua Foundation, which was established in the 1930s to oversee and manage the Chautauqua Institution’s endowment. Since the early 2000s, Hagen has given the Foundation approximately $13 million in support of its work in arts, youth services, education, human services, public administration, and libraries. Hagen’s donations have gone toward general operating support, scholarships, and the foundation’s endowment.
LOOKING FORWARD: Having previously worked as a social worker and given her involvement in CORE, it isn’t a stretch to say that Hagen will likely continue her focus on youth and community services related programs. That said, Hagen has been known to make a one-off gift here and there, such as the $2 million donation she made in conjunction with Erie Insurance, to the Sarah Reed Children’s Center in 2012. The gift was made in support of building a new residence hall and treatment environment for young trauma victims. She's also given to arts institutions like Erie Philharmonic. So while Hagen’s giving pattern is relatively steadfast, it also seems pretty flexible.
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