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Chemical heir John C. Haas, who gave away millions to charities, dies at 92

JOHN C. HAAS knew what to do with his money. He gave it away. Well, not all of it, but donations in the millions of dollars to benefit a staggeringly varied number of good causes, many of them centered in the Philadelphia region.

JOHN C. HAAS knew what to do with his money.

He gave it away.

Well, not all of it, but donations in the millions of dollars to benefit a staggeringly varied number of good causes, many of them centered in the Philadelphia region.

Haas was rich, but he got even richer when Rohm & Haas, the giant Philadelphia-based chemical company co-founded by his father and of which he had been chairman of the board, was sold to Dow Chemical Co. in 2009 for $15.3 billion.

The four charitable trusts founded by the Haas family surged in value to $2.7 billion.

The sale allowed the family heirs to shift $1.25 billion to charitable foundations. The biggest beneficiary was the William Penn Foundation, founded by Otto Haas and his wife, Phoebe, after World War II to support local charities. It received $747 million.

Another $502 million went to the Wyncote Foundation, established to support the charitable interests of the Haas family.

John C. Haas, known to neighbors of his sprawling mansion, Stoneleigh, in Villanova, as the spry old man who roamed the local roads picking up litter - part of his persona as a humble, unassuming local character - died Saturday at age 92.

He was the retired chairman of Rohm & Haas, the company to which he devoted his working life, rising through the various departments to positions of greater and greater responsibility.

But as devoted as he was to the internationally famous chemical company, his charitable interests commanded much of his attention throughout his long life. They included the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, of which he was former president; a boys and girls club in Nicetown; Leon Sullivan's Opportunities Industrialization Centers, and numerous other entities.

A dedicated environmentalist, Haas in 2009 turned over the 160-acre hamlet known as Waterloo Mills, in Easttown Township, Chester County, which his family has owned since 1928, to the Brandywine Conservancy for permanent preservation.

Also given to the Conservancy was the 200 acres Haas and his wife, Chara, bought in 1968 near Waterloo Mills. They had given 35 acres of it and a mansion to Episcopal Academy, Haas' alma mater, for use as a Lower School campus.

The William Penn Foundation makes grants to aid Fairmount Park, the arts, for infrastructure improvements, such as the upgrade of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and provides seed money for other initiatives, including the transformation the Delaware River's central waterfront.

The foundation's endowment of $1.9 billion makes it one of the richest charitable foundations in the country.

John C. Haas was born in Haverford to Otto Haas and Phoebe Waterman Haas, who was among the first women to receive a degree in astronomy.

He graduated from Episcopal in 1936 and from Amherst College, in 1940. He later received a master's in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rohm & Haas was founded by Otto Haas and Otto Rohm as a leather-tanning business in Germany in 1907. They opened a branch in the U.S. and later moved here. Expanding into chemicals and acrylics, they struck gold with the invention of Plexiglas.

Haas started at the company as a process engineer at its Bridesburg plant in 1942. After a hitch in the Navy during the war, he returned to Bridesburg after his discharge in 1946. He had assignments at the company's plants in Knoxville, Tenn., and in Houston.

In 1953, he rose to the position of vice president of personnel and soon after assumed the additional responsibilities of purchasing and logistics. He was named vice chairman of the board in 1959, and chairman in 1974.

He met his wife, Chara Cooper, of Bryn Athyn, at a dinner party in Houston. They were married in 1952. Haas always credited his wife with the idea of establishing the Stoneleigh Foundation, named after their Villanova estate, to help vulnerable and underserved children and youth.

In the 1960s, his mother introduced him to the young Baptist preacher Leon Sullivan, who had an idea for giving underprivileged people training and a job. Haas was so inspired by Sullivan's ideas that he became a loyal supporter of OIC for 50 years.

Ed Rendell, former mayor and governor, said Haas was "a gentle, extraordinarily decent and honorable man. If you met him for the first time, you would never have guessed he was extremely successful.

"He didn't care much for the trappings of wealth or success. He only cared about using his resources to help others. His special passion was improving human services and protecting our environment."

Besides his wife, Haas is survived by a daughter, Barbara; four sons, David, Leonard, Frederick and Duncan, and 10 grandchildren. His only brother, F. Otto Haas, died in 1994.

Services: A private service will be held for the family. A memorial service will be planned for a later date.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia, attn. Development Dept., 1518 Walnut St., Suite 605, Philadelphia 19102, or to the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia 19103.