A six-figure financial gift from a recently deceased entrepreneur and humanitarian will help a local nonprofit launch a new program to bolster local education and assistance efforts.

A six-figure financial gift from a recently deceased entrepreneur and humanitarian will help a local nonprofit launch a new program to bolster local education and assistance efforts.

Prior to his April 25 death at the age of 84, Worthington Industries founder and Columbus Blue Jackets majority owner John H. McConnell sought to help generations that followed him in Delaware County.

Days before he died, McConnell provided a $100,000 gift to United Way of Delaware County to launch the "McConnell Step Up to Greatness Matching Gift Program."

The program, which was initiated last Tuesday, will allow contributors to the local United Way to gradually achieve a higher level of giving by matching funds to those who commit to contributing $10,000 or more annually.

The program lets donors commit to contributing $10,000 within three years.

They would then qualify for The Tocqueville Society, for donors of $10,000 or more.

For example, in the case of donor $5,000, the United Way will take $5,000 out of the McConnell gift, bringing the total gift to $10,000 for the year.

Within three years, the individual will give $10,000 annually and no McConnell funds will be needed to supplement.

Katherine Kreuchauf, president of United Way of Delaware County, said, "We are going to be focusing on individuals who currently give in the $3,000 to $5,000 range, but we would speak with anyone who would be interested."

Money from the program will be distributed throughout Delaware County to aid education, income and health services.

"It provides an incentive to individuals who feel ($10,000 annual contributions) is something they can't do today, but would like to in the future," Kreuchauf, said. "We also hope it will raise the profile of donors in the community who give at that level.

"Ultimately, we hope it will result in more dollars coming into the community."

Kreuchauf said she hopes the Step Up program also will help keep alive McConnell's legacy. A former Delaware County resident who grew up in West Virginia during the Great Depression, he went on to use his 1952 Oldsmobile as collateral for a loan that in 1955 launched Worthington Industries.

At the time of McConnell's death, his company was being traded on the New York Stock Exchange and employed 8,000 people in 69 facilities in 11 countries. It had annual sales of approximately $3-billion.

Locally, Kreuchauf said, McConnell donated to a number of nonprofit organizations. He contributed slightly less than $500,000 to United Way of Delaware County alone.

"He lived in Delaware County and had a number of businesses in Delaware County," Kreuchauf said. "He was very generous not only to our group, but other organizations in the county, and he was such a role model for so many people that it was clear we wanted to do something that would inspire people in his footsteps.

"His giving to United Way grew over time. We thought this was an opportunity to let other individuals' giving grow over time."

Information about the Step Up program is available at www.unwaydelaware.org, or by calling (740) 369-9618.