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Vic and Sue Althouse

His Stanford doctorate in organic chemistry helped Vic Althouse, PhD '61, and his wife, Sue, start a highly successful Silicon Valley business.

Grateful for the Chance to Return to School, Alum Returns the Favor

Sue and Vic Althouse, PhD '61, design a plan to take care of family and take care of Stanford.

When Vic Althouse decided to pursue his doctorate in 1957, he chose Stanford.

The problem was, he wasn't sure Stanford would choose him. But after watching a fellow chemist passed over for promotion for lack of a PhD, Vic was determined to be ready when opportunity knocked.

So he picked up the phone, crossed his fingers, and dialed.

"Stanford said, 'Come on up,'" recalls Vic, who had a chemistry degree from UCLA and two years in the Army under his belt when he arrived in Palo Alto that fall. "Not only was I admitted, but Stanford helped with my tuition. I could handle the first quarter with the GI Bill, but after that Dr. Harry Mosher saw to it that I got what I needed."

Mosher, a beloved chemistry professor and mentor of many, helped Althouse secure the funding he needed to complete his studies. The chemist clearly saw potential in the young man--and it turns out, Mosher was right. About a decade after earning his PhD in organic chemistry, Vic founded Vichem Corporation, a highly successful semiconductor supply company that he ran with his wife, Sue, from the early 1970s to the late 1990s.

Along the way, the couple became staunch supporters of the university, making annual gifts for many years. In 1998, they established the Althouse Family Stanford Graduate Fellowship Fund in gratitude for the help that Vic had received as a graduate student 40 years before. Then in 2011, they remembered the university in their estate plans by arranging for a portion of their estate to fund a testamentary charitable remainder unitrust. The Althouses chose the unitrust for several reasons: It provides for their daughter and two sons during  their lifetimes, can offer tax advantages, and ultimately benefits the university.

"Our gift to Stanford provides greater potential and greater possibility than anything we could do on our own," he says. "I know Stanford will do something significant in the world with our gift."

Sue wholeheartedly agrees: "I'm all for it. Education is too important to ignore."

Vic and Sue Althouse in 1987How to ship all those chips?

The Althouses' road to success may have begun with education, but it soon moved to the kitchen table. One day a friend from Hewlett-Packard told Vic that the company needed a secure device to transport silicon chips--the same chips that were turning the Santa Clara Valley known for orchards into a tech powerhouse now known as Silicon Valley.

A born problem-solver, Vic knew his way around polymers and plastics. So he experimented over the kitchen stove until he concocted a material that could protect and safely transport the fragile chips. He called it the Gel-Pak. "This is 1970, the beginning of the semiconductor industry," he notes.

Eventually, Vic invented a device even more valuable that he dubbed the universal Vacuum Release carrier. The beauty of the carrier was that it securely held the chips for transportation and then gently released them. "It was reversible," he says. "We patented it in 1983. That's when the business took off."

One million sold

In the beginning, it was a family affair: The children put labels on the boxes at night, Sue answered the phone by day, and Vic worked full-time jobs while tinkering with his inventions every chance he got. Sue still laughs when she recalls all the kitchen utensils her husband used. "I had to replace mixers, measuring cups, you name it," she says with a smile. "Vic would say, 'That's OK, you can just wash it.' No I couldn't--not when I knew what had been in there."

Soon, Vichem outgrew the kitchen table as the Valley's semiconductor companies lined up to buy the device. "We sold 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 a year. HP kept buying it," Vic recalls. "Then Intel bought the one-millionth tray."

As the business prospered, the chemist quit his day job and traveled the world selling his invention. In 1997, the couple received an offer to buy the company and neither hesitated. As successful as Vichem was, it was time.

"It is surprising, and I guess gratifying, that essentially all of the products we developed are still in existence and sold today, several decades after they were invented," Vic says. "I had fun while it lasted. There's nothing like owning your own business."

Now, he and Sue are very pleased to provide support to the place that took a chance on a young man seeking to improve himself--and changed the course of his life.

It's fitting, he says, to give to Stanford after Stanford gave so much to him.

"I feel real gratitude to Stanford for giving me the opportunity to go back to school. They made it happen," Vic says. "Establishing a trust here feels right."
 

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