Harold L. “Spike” Yoh Jr. B.S.M.E. ’58 chose Duke for his undergraduate education because of its challenging engineering curriculum and because he wanted to head south for college. Little did he know that the university would profoundly shape the course of his life.
Yoh is this year’s winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award, presented by the Duke Alumni Association (DAA) to Duke graduates who have made significant contributions in their own fields, in service to the university, or for the betterment of humanity. Yoh will receive the award this fall at the annual Founders’ Day ceremonies on September 30.
The Distinguished Alumni Award is the most recent recognition Yoh has received from his alma mater. He received the DAA’s Charles A. Dukes Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service in 1996 and the engineering school’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983. In addition to these institutional honors, Yoh says his biggest reward is his ongoing association with a university that continues to strive for excellence and innovation. “In all the work I’ve done—in my local community and around the country— everyone knows Duke, and they know that I am involved with the university,” he says. “That association always gives me instant credibility. It’s been one of my secret ingredients for success.”
A native of Philadelphia, Yoh was the first member of his family to attend Duke. But a fateful encounter on East Campus sparked the beginning of a multigenerational presence at the university. At the time, the buses between campuses, and to downtown Durham, cost ten cents. Students with cars frequently circled by East Campus—then the Woman’s College—to offer free rides to those waiting at the bus stop. One day, Yoh and a fraternity brother drove up and offered a ride to a group that included Mary Milus ’59—the future Mrs. Yoh.
The Yohs’ five children all attended Duke: Harold Lionel Yoh III B.S.M.E. ’83 (married to Sharon Crutcher ’83, and father of Kristin Yoh ’09); Michael H. Yoh B.S.C.E. ’85; Karen B. Yoh ’87; Jeffrey Milus Yoh B.S.M.E. ’88, M.B.A. ’94; and William Courtlandt Yoh ’93.
After graduating from Duke, Spike Yoh earned an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He worked at his father’s company, Day & Zimmermann Inc., eventually buying it and becoming chair of the board and chief executive officer. He retired in 1999; the company is now run by his eldest son.
Throughout his business career, Yoh has remained active in the Duke community, serving on a variety of Annual Fund and campaign committees. He was elected to the board of trustees in 1991 and served as its chair from 2001 to 2003; he was a member of the board of visitors of the Pratt School of Engineering from 1983 to 2003. He has also been generous in his financial support. Yoh and his wife donated $5.5 million to help fund construction of the Yoh Football Center and, with his family, established the Yoh Family Professorship in the social sciences.
In addition to his volunteer work at Duke, Yoh’s community involvement has included leadership roles with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, the University of the Arts, the Haverford School (where he attended high school), and the Philadelphia Council of Boy Scouts.