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1980 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Richard L. Lesher

President, Retired
Chamber of Commerce of the United States

"The key to success and happiness is the achievement of a proper marriage between enlightened self-interest and the institutional interest."

Born in Doylesburg, Pennsylvania, Richard Lesher grew up during the Depression in nearby Chambersburg. His father was a construction worker and his mother did factory work. At the age of seven, Lesher and his sister sold newspapers and scrap iron, and picked fruit and sold it door to door. In high school, he worked 25 hours a week while still playing football and basketball. After serving two years in the Army, Lesher entered the University of Pittsburgh on the GI Bill. He worked his way through college as a production coordinator at a Westinghouse plant. He earned his degree in less than three years, and then added advanced degrees from Penn State and Indiana University.

Lesher joined NASA and eventually rose to become assistant administrator for technology utilization, helping to put the first men on the moon. After five years in NASA's top management, Lesher left to become the first president of the National Center for Resource Recovery, a company that worked to solve environmental problems. In 1975, Lesher became president of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. Under his guidance, a state-of-the-art telecommunications center was installed in the Chamber headquarters.

After 22 years of running the Chamber, Lesher stepped down in 1997. In addition to his corporate board duties, Lesher finds time for his favorite causes, most of which center on students. He gives lectures at Shippensburg University, sharing the business viewpoint with graduate students in education administration. He also serves as chairman of the National Student-Parent Mock Election, which gets students involved in the electoral process.

When he talks with young people, Lesher says his advice has not changed over the years. "The Horatio Alger values of hard work, education, honesty, and integrity may sound like buzz words," he says, "but you find as you go through life these are the things that are really important. I tell young people that America is the land of opportunity for those who are willing to extend themselves, prepare themselves, work hard, and be of good character. It's a timeless message." Lesher says that his Horatio Alger Award serves as a memorial to these values, and adds, "The Association plays a vital role in telling people it's important to live by these values.