Trustee Dan Polett
Long before basketball coaches John Chaney and Dawn Staley took up residence in the Liacouras Center, Dan Polett used to walk the floor there. He, too, worried about performance in the paint and problems with the back door, occasionally pleading with his troops to just “drive!”
Of course, Polett was walking the floor not as a basketball coach but as the president of the Wilkie automobile dealership, which Polett led on an overwhelmingly successful run at the North Broad Street parcel that Temple acquired to build an arena.
“The Liacouras Center has been a catalyst in helping bring about significant improvements at Temple,” said Polett, a longtime member and former chairman of the board overseeing Temple’s hospital and health system. He was appointed to the University’s Board of Trustees in 1992 and now serves as vice chairman of the executive committee.
“Constructing that sports and entertainment complex made a compelling statement about Temple’s commitment to the neighborhood, and it signaled the University’s intent to develop the physical, social and cultural life of its campus,” he said. “The Liacouras Center is a state-of-the-art, first-class operation that makes Temple’s campus a more attractive destination for students and visitors of all types.”
Polett began his automotive career in 1960 through an executive training program with General Motors after graduating with honors from Fordham University. He joined Wilkie as general manager in 1967, became president in 1969, and has held 100 percent ownership of the dealership since 1971. Today Wilkie dealerships sell Chevrolet, Buick, Subaru and Lexus vehicles from locations at Broad and Green streets and suburban Ardmore, and Polett holds ownership interests in other dealerships in the region and elsewhere in the country.
Polett has had a long relationship with Temple, first as a businessman neighbor and later on governing boards. He likes the changes he sees.
“Our growing enrollment and improvements in academic quality among students and faculty are very exciting,” he said. “So is the growth in students living on campus. It’s the right thing at the right time. I’d like to see us continue on the path we are on.”
A key challenge facing Temple’s ongoing improvements is the level of its endowment, Polett added.
“We need to have stronger financial resources to realize our potential,” he said. “For much of Temple’s past, we provided a good education but did not generate much of a ‘campus feeling.’ As a result of that, we don’t always have the allegiance among alumni that other colleges and universities do. But we’re in the process of fixing that, and fix it we must.”
Polett’s service to Temple has earned him the Acres of Diamonds Award (1993) and the Russell Conwell Award (1995), the highest honor given to a non-alumnus. And he holds basketball season tickets in the very place where his own career took flight.
So what does he do when his alma mater, the Fordham Rams, is the visiting opponent? “Frankly,” he admitted, “I root for Temple.”
- By Mark Eyerly