Vehbi Koç: “How did I first get involved in philanthropy?”
I thought it was time that businesses started doing charitable work for the public good on a systematic basis and wanted to set a pioneering example… The first time I went to the USA, two things left a lasting impression on me: One was Columbia University student dormitories and the other was the hospital at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. When you go into the hospital, you see two plaques, each on the left and right, explaining that the hospital was a foundation endowed by the businessman Johns Hopkins. Most of the universities and hospitals in America are charitable foundations.
When I got back home, I set my heart on following that example and using my available funds to build a facility. I just didn’t know where or what I could do, so I started to discuss it with various people I trusted… For my first enterprise, I had in mind a budget of between 500,000 and one million Turkish lira. Some of my friends thought I should build a mosque or library, while others thought it should be a student dormitory...
I settled on building a student dormitory on the land I owned on Gazi Mustafa Kemal Caddesi in Maltepe and donating it to Ankara University... An agreeable deed of donation was prepared. We made an agreement with the university, marked the occasion with a celebration and the building began. The building work was completed on time without a hitch and the building was kitted out. The first part of the student dormitory had 150 beds: 86 single rooms and the remainder four-bed dorms. The Vehbi Koç Student Dormitory was ready to hand over to Ankara University in May 1950.
In 1949, a new law was introduced stating that higher education dormitories were to fall under the remit of the Ministry of Education. I didn’t want to transfer the dormitory to the ministry. I insisted on donating the building to the university because the ministry was a political institution.
Adnan Menderes became president after the Democrat Party came to power in the 1950 general election. I told him my wishes and he accepted them. In March 1951, Law No. 5744 was introduced, allowing “universities and faculties to take on student dormitories that have been bequeathed or donated, on condition that they are under their own management.”
The late Tevfik İleri, Minister of Education at the time, agreed to do the official opening and the dormitory opened with a nice ceremony on April 30, 1951. The Ankara University rector at the time, the now deceased Professor Hikmet Birand, accepted the dormitory on behalf of the university. I’ll never forget my excitement that day, nor the speech I gave to the guests and the young students who filled the dormitory.
The opening day of the dormitory was one of the best days in my life.
My words, like a legacy to the students, were written on a marble plate and placed in the dormitory entrance hall:
“Ankara has grown along with the Republic. Ever since it became a new educational center for our country, I have willed God to give me an opportunity to support this tide of enlightenment with my own means, because I believe that tomorrow depends on education, science and technology. The joy of attaining this wish is one of the proudest moments of my life.
I believe that any endeavor that helps to better nurture the young people in whose hands Atatürk entrusted the country and Republic is the greatest form of benevolence in the revolution we are living through. This facility arose from that belief.
Dear Young Resident,
You inspired this work. It is yours. I am just a humble means to an end. I am donating it to Ankara University so it can nurture you and your successors. All I ask of you is to do everything you can to help the realization of this great aim. Never forget the principle of working for the good of the country and nation with wisdom and an upright character.
This dormitory gives you a start in that direction, small though it may be, and if it sets an example, that will be my sole reward.
The dormitory was opened and the students settled in. It was the most modern dormitory built in Ankara at the time. Now and again, I would go to the dormitory, eat with the students, and follow their revelry and academic successes. It gave me a great deal of moral strength...
The need for student dormitories was growing every day. The municipal authorities had not given us permission for all the floors we wanted. In fact, they fined us for the fourth floor, which they said was illegal. The dormitory could take 150 students. In 1956, I wanted to expand it and the university accepted the idea. Intending to increase the capacity to 285 students, we started building in 1956 and the work was completed in 1957.
Vehbi Koç, Hayat Hikâyem (My Life Story), 4th ed., Vehbi Koç Vakfı Yayınları, Istanbul, 1983, pp. 111–14