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Deshe family gift launches campaign to renovate University of Alabama’s Alston Hall

A $2 million commitment from alumnus Ari Deshe and wife Ann kicks off the University of Alabama’s $4 million fundraising campaign to renovate Mary Hewell Alston Hall, home of the Culverhouse College of Business.

The campaign to renovate Alston Hall will modernize the 30-year-old building.

The Deshes’ commitment includes $1.1 million to the Alston Hall renovation, $400,000 to scholarships for first-generation business students and $500,000 to the Bloom Hillel Student Center, a gathering place for UA Jewish students.

“Through the steadfast support and generosity of the Deshe family, we will continue to provide cutting-edge facilities, resources, technology and scholarships that shape the futures of business and rising business leaders,” said UA President Stuart Bell.

Ari Deshe, who was an international student from Israel, graduated from UA with a bachelor’s degree in insurance in 1977 and a master’s degree in finance in 1978. In 1993, he founded SafeAuto Insurance, a Columbus, Ohio-based auto insurance company that served 18 states. He sold the company to Allstate in 2021.

As a student, Deshe recalls coming to UA specifically to learn about insurance and finance, college courses that were not available at the time in his home country.

“My father was also in the insurance field, and he was very pleased when he found out that there was a world-renowned insurance professor at UA, Dr. John Bickley,” Deshe said. “During my first two years at the university, the local Jewish community was very kind to me and to my Israeli friends, who all lived at the Hillel House for free.

“I’m very appreciative of all that the University of Alabama has done for me. I feel very strongly that the university really helped to advance my career and gave me the tools to understand the insurance business. I’m very fortunate to be in a position to give back.”

The Deshes’ gift for Alston Hall sets the foundation for the building fundraising campaign.

“Alston Hall is, for all intents and purposes, the heart of the Culverhouse College of Business,” said Culverhouse Dean Kay Palan. “It’s where our alumni gather for our fall tailgate picnics, where students converge for lectures and where many of our faculty and staff work.

“On behalf of the entire team here at Culverhouse, we are grateful to the Deshe family for helping initiate a much-needed renovation of the building.”

The Alston Hall project will include a overhaul of the fourth floor, home to the dean’s office suite, as well as offices for the development, alumni and corporate relations, and marketing and communications teams. Plans for the rest of the building include the addition of collaboration spaces and updates to the ground floor commons and lobby.

While Deshe spent most of his time as a UA student in nearby Bidgood Hall, upon a recent visit to the University he saw an immediate need in helping renovate Alston Hall and was happy to support the project. Pending approval by the UA System Board of Trustees, the Deshes’ gift will name the dean’s suite, conference room and parlor on the fourth floor of Alston Hall while providing key funding to support renovations throughout the building.

“My dream was always to have my own insurance company, and I achieved it in the early 1990s,” Deshe said. “After 27 years in business, I had been approached by the Allstate Corporation, which offered to buy my company, and I thought it was the right time and opportunity to sell. My only regret is that it took me over 40 years since I graduated to give back to the university, but I guess better late than never. I’m very fortunate to be able to give back to the place that helped develop my career.”

Alston Hall renovations are scheduled to begin in summer 2023 and be finished by the fall.

For more information about the Alston Hall fundraising campaign, visit giving.ua.edu/alston-hall.

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama)

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