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Getting personal:
Scholarship gifts attract hands-on donors

Like so many lifestyle choices, charitable giving has become very much a personal matter, experts say. Donors want to make gifts that reflect their personalities and preferences and help people they can identify with. At Skidmore hundreds of donors use named scholarships to express thanks, love, or esteem for important people in their lives while also directly helping individual students whom they can meet and get to know. Of some 250 scholarships (including a record-breaking forty-eight given through the annual fund this year), about a third are named in memory or honor of family members, classmates, or professors.

“As I watched my kids grow up and saw their learning styles, I realized that two Skidmore professors had had a great impact on my life and learning,” says Barbara Kahn Moller ’78. When Erwin Levine, professor emeritus of government, died in 2002, she contributed to his memorial fund at Skidmore. And last year she gave a named annual-fund scholarship in honor of Tad Kuroda, professor of history. “These two professors were so important to me. They set a standard for how to think critically and in unpredicted ways. The scholarship in Tad’s name really fits with what made Skidmore special for me.”

It was tragedy—the death of Kenny Gordon ’94, from heart failure, at the age of twenty-six—that brought together friends and family to set up a foundation, and a Skidmore scholarship, in his name. To honor the “vivacious and generous spirit of a young man who viewed the world through unbiased eyes,” their Kenny Gordon Foundation provides a four-year scholarship for one or more students in Skidmore’s Higher Education Opportunity Program—a New York State program to help students from financially and academically disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in college.

“Kenny loved helping people, especially young people,” says Jason Twomey ’94, an officer of the foundation. “So our first priority was a scholarship.” The foundation also supports cardiology research and a camp for New York City youths. Twomey says, “It’s been rewarding. We enjoy getting to know the Gordon Scholars, and we’d like to continue helping them after they graduate. We even hope they might want to join the board of our foundation.”

A foundation was the last thing Amanda Larson Gebhardt ’99 was thinking of when her beloved, eccentric great-aunt died. She had long maintained a poor-as-a-churchmouse lifestyle, so everyone was surprised when her will revealed a large estate, most of which she directed into a charitable foundation that she asked Gebhardt and her mother to administer. Recalling her college days of working twenty hours a week at a clothing store to supplement her financial aid—and having made “a promise to myself that if I could ever help send someone to Skidmore on scholarship, I would do it in a heartbeat”—Gebhardt made a foundation gift to endow a scholarship fund at Skidmore. She accompanied it with a $10,000 annual-fund gift to make the scholarship available immediately; starting next year, interest income from the endowed fund will underwrite the scholarship in perpetuity.

Gebhardt says she grew at Skidmore, thanks to “interesting, challenging professors and students from a wide variety of backgrounds” as well as off-campus study in Washington, D.C., and Europe. But she almost missed those experiences—and had to struggle hard to secure them—because of financial limitations. Her scholarship fund was a way to ease the burden for another student “who wants to attend Skidmore more than anything else in the world.” She was delighted to meet that student at Skidmore’s scholarship dinnner this past spring.

For Moller too, it’s satisfying to know just how her gift is helping a particular student. In fact, when she received “a glowing letter from Tad Kuroda, describing how terrific the recipient was,” she re-upped for a second year, to continue aiding the same student.

Helping a fellow student certainly inspires the graduating seniors who donate to the senior-class gift each year. The seniors work toward a participation goal, and one or two trustees agree to make up the dollar-amount difference to fund a $10,000 annual-fund scholarship to help a Skidmore junior pay for his or her senior year. This year, challenged by trustees Elliott Masie and Susan Gottlieb Beckerman ’67, a record-shattering 90 percent of seniors contributed, spurring Masie to toss in an extra five grand, for a $15,000 scholarship.

Classmates often find that reunions inspire similar team efforts. For their fortieth reunion last year, the Class of ’63 created five four-year scholarships that were awarded this year to freshmen; as long as they continue to qualify, those same five students can rely on the scholarships throughout their Skidmore careers. This year both ’94 and ’59 marked their reunions by making scholarship gifts.

Through its popular benefit gala each summer, the Palamountain Scholarship Fund draws on an even wider pool of donors, whose gifts honor the late Skidmore president Joe Palamountain and his widow, Anne, an indefatigable supporter of Skidmore and its students. Now in its twenty-fifth year, the endowed fund has topped $3 million and helps a dozen or more students each year. And the recently revived Skidmore horse show directs its proceeds to scholarships especially for students from around the Albany area.

With their flexible formulas, expressions of honor for important people in one’s life, and direct impact on individual students, it’s little wonder that scholarships bring out the spirit of generosity in donors who like to get personal. —SR