Jim Kaplan’s surname is on the building that for the last five decades has been the centerpiece of William & Mary Athletics. That speaks to the generosity the former Tribe basketball player has shown since graduating in 1957.
Yet Jim Kaplan ’57, who died Sunday at the age of 87, had a devotion to his alma mater that transcended athletics. He and his wife, Jane Thompson Kaplan ’56, spread their philanthropy campus-wide, proudly doing more than their share in support of William & Mary.
“Jim championed William & Mary in every way,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “A Hall of Fame athlete, philanthropist and stalwart Tribe fan, he, along with Jane, elevated excellence in Kaplan Arena and in our classrooms.
“Jim delighted in hard-fought wins on the court. I will miss his enthusiasm and spirit at basketball games. The entire university community and I extend deepest condolences to Jane and to Jim’s many friends and family.”
Jim Kaplan was inducted into the William & Mary Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987. He received the Alumni Medallion, the highest honor given to a W&M graduate, in 2002.
“We lost one of our closest friends and strongest advocates today,” said Vice President for University Advancement Matthew T. Lambert ‘99. “Jim was a great man, devoted to his family, his alma mater, his country and the common good, and he will be dearly missed.
“The impact he made at this place he loved so much, the place where he met Jane and where he helped lead the way forward, cannot be overstated. We could not be more grateful for all he’s done for our community.”
Jim Kaplan’s many committee memberships over the years have included the William & Mary Foundation, honorary co-chair of the For the Bold Campaign Steering Committee, the Alumni Association Board of Directors, the AEF (Tribe Club) Executive Committee and chair of his 50th Reunion Gift Committee.
He and Jane Thompson Kaplan have been major supporters of the Catholic Campus Ministry and the Muscarelle Museum of Art. They established the Kaplan Family Athletic Scholarship and the Millie West Olympic Sports Coaches Endowment and named galleries at the Alumni House and the art museum.
“Jim’s love for our athletics program and the depth of his belief in our mission of developing and supporting student-athletes can be measured in a myriad of ways,” said Athletics Director Brian Mann. “His loss will be felt throughout the Williamsburg community, and we send our deepest sympathies to Jane and their extended family.”
The Kaplans also endowed a basketball scholarship to honor their good friends Bobby Dwyer M.Ed. ’94 and Patti Dwyer, an honorary alumna.
“Jim and Jane have both been so warm, friendly and gracious,” said Bobby Dwyer, who worked in W&M Athletics for 34 years. “The four of us spent so much time together at athletic and campus events or playing golf.
“They’ve been great supporters of athletics but also great supporters of the business school, the alumni association and the university overall. There was a very broad range of programs they supported.”
In 2016, the Kaplans made the largest donation W&M Athletics had ever received to provide full financial support for the men’s basketball program. As a result, what was then called William & Mary Hall was renamed Kaplan Arena.
“The enduring passion Jim had for our basketball programs is the foundation on which the current transformative renovation projects are built,” said Terry Driscoll, W&M’s athletics director from 1995 to 2017. “This is a loss for the university, Tribe Athletics and a deep personal loss of a wonderful and dear friend.”
Dane Fischer, who became William & Mary’s head basketball coach in 2019, is deeply appreciative of Kaplan’s support.
“It is impossible to overstate the impact that Jim has had on our basketball program,” Fischer said. “He and Jane were among the first to welcome my family into the William & Mary community, and I was able to see firsthand their unwavering support of our student-athletes.”
Born in southwestern Pennsylvania — his father was a coal miner who emigrated from Ukraine — Jim Kaplan became a basketball star at Windber High School. In 1953, he set a state record by scoring 68 points in a game. A year later, that mark was broken by Wilt Chamberlain.
Jim Kaplan came to William & Mary in the fall of 1953. A 6-foot-2 forward, he averaged 11.7 points and 4.6 rebounds a game on the men’s basketball team.
According to an article in the Tribune-Democrat, his hometown newspaper, he met his future wife at a fraternity party during his sophomore year. They married shortly after Jim Kaplan graduated.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and served as a missile officer until 1961. He then began his career as a field engineer at Cornell Dubilier Electronics. He went on to become the company’s president in 1978 and, eventually, owner.
All along, he remained faithfully focused on the green and gold.
“Jim was a builder, in the corporate world and at his alma mater, where his focus was Tribe Athletics, basketball especially,” said W&M President Emeritus W. Taylor Reveley III, LL.D. ’18, who was the university’s president from 2008 to 2018. “His warm friendship and powerful ambition for all things green and gold, however, were felt throughout William & Mary.” A celebration of Jim Kaplan’s life will be held Friday, July 8, at 11 a.m. at Saint Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.