CC Magazine welcomes your Class Notes submissions. Please include your name, class year, email, and physical address for verification purposes. Please note that CC Magazine reserves the right to edit for space and clarity. Thank you.
A new generation of legacy donors advances a Conn tradition
By Pete Mackey
n 1911, in gratitude and encouragement, bells across New London were rung day after day, marking gifts being given across the city to create a new institution, the Connecticut College for Women. When the bells finally went quiet weeks later, there was only one thing left to do: Have a party. On March 1 of that momentous year, a citywide Jubilee Celebration hailed the campaign’s results—every local citizen and business had contributed to the effort, shattering the $100,000 goal and raising $134,824 to create the founding Endowment Fund that brought a new institution to life.
It may be time for those bells to start ringing again. Two of Conn’s most generous donors, Karen and Rob ’88 Hale P’20, have just offered a legacy challenge of historic proportions that invites today’s Conn community to rally anew and bring the Defy Boundaries campaign home. See the sidebar on page 21 for the exciting details.
The Hales’ challenge continues a Conn tradition of giving that makes an enduring impact. Three months after the founding jubilee, Morton F. Plant made a $1 million gift that increased the College’s endowment nearly tenfold. Then bequests—like the Hales are inspiring now—started to come: 1,300 books and extensive scientific equipment from renowned scientist William P. Bolles; additional support from Plant to build Branford House; one-quarter of the estate of David Hall Fanning; and legacy gifts from sisters Virginia and Theodora Palmer that funded the construction of the auditorium that still honors them. Gift by gift, year after year, these and other visionary early donors converted money, personal possessions, buildings, land and more into bequests that lifted the new college, ensured its future and created a national leader in liberal arts education.
With challenges like the Hales’ helping to push Defy Boundaries toward its $300 million goal and all it will mean for Conn’s second century, the power of bequests has only grown. Bequests have built residence halls and classrooms, launched innovative educational and research programs, secured exceptional faculty through endowed professorships, opened doors to outstanding students through scholarships and funded new ideas that have become established parts of College practice. In making such a difference, bequests continue to do something few decisions in life can—carry the wishes of donors forward not only long beyond their own lives but, more significantly, also making that difference for as long as the institution itself will stand. This perpetual impact is among the reasons that today’s legacy donors see so much opportunity in this special and increasingly popular form of generosity. Generation after generation, bequests have continued connecting the donor, the College and the students of countless tomorrows who will experience the benefits of donors’ confidence.
Karen Quint ’87, for example, used her bequest to pay forward the gift of education that she enjoyed at Conn and in her family—both her parents were teachers. She wanted to share that gift with many others, including students far into the future whom she would never meet. “The college experience is one of the most impactful experiences in a person’s life,” she says, “and it is a privilege to have the ability and opportunity to give back in such a meaningful way.” She adds, “While going through the estate-planning process, it is natural to think of those you want to remember who have helped to shape your life. It was only natural to be sure Conn was a part of my plans.”
Carol Ramsey ’74 found the same type of fulfillment in her bequest. “Having worked for nonprofits most of my career,” she says, “I was never going to be among the largest donors to the school, but I understood that I could still be among the more consequential. Making a bequest to the College in addition to my usual annual fund gifts—as modest as I may think they are—amounts to something substantial. I leave a window open to the next generation of students, even if I cannot build the building whose doors they will walk through.”
Vision and Creativity
Donors have capitalized on the freedom that bequests provide to shape their impact on students in every way imaginable. Some bequest donors have focused their gifts on aspects of Conn’s educational experience that mean the most to them—across the arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences, library, study abroad and much more. And others have given unrestricted bequests to let the College apply the resources to areas of greatest need or promise. Some bequests have come through cash left in wills; others through collectables or real estate sold before the capital transfers to the College; and others through gifts of publicly traded stocks, bonds or mutual funds. Other donors have left Conn bequests through life insurance policies or qualified retirement plans that name the College as a beneficiary.
Whatever the method chosen, the end results share a deep significance. When far-seeing individuals invest in the College’s mission and thereby in its work to educate leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs, creators and teachers who will influence businesses, communities and organizations of every kind, they turn bequests into lasting contributions to society.
Laura Becker, who leads Conn’s Office of Gift Planning and the staff who work most closely with legacy donors, says the best part of her work is seeing the combination of vision and creativity that bequests make possible for donors. “Deciding to name Connecticut College as a beneficiary of an estate is a big decision, and often the largest gift an individual will make. It is incredibly rewarding to help our alumni, friends and family identify the bequest approach that is best for them to meet their own needs and goals. With retirement plans and other account beneficiary designations becoming increasingly popular, the mechanics of implementing the decision can be very easy. It’s ultimately all about matching the donor’s goal with the area of the College they want to support, and not just in the years immediately ahead but, for all intents and purposes, forever.”
During Defy Boundaries, Becker has seen Conn donors contribute more than $40 million through bequests so far, bringing the College close to its goal of raising $50 million in this way during the campaign. The Hales’ challenge will allow Conn donors to shatter that goal, just as New Londoners did when founding the College. One such donor whose story touched Becker deeply was the gift that Dorothy ‘Dot’ Hyman Roberts ’50 left in her will when she passed away in June 2020.
Roberts had for years led Echo Design Group, which her parents had founded as Echo Scarfs Inc. in Manhattan in the midst of the Great Depression. As Roberts’ leadership took hold, she guided the company to unprecedented growth, building partnerships with companies like Ralph Lauren, Coach, Brooks Brothers and MoMA. But while she did it all as a corporate CEO in the heart of the city, she valued time in nature profoundly.
And in her estate plans, Roberts made sure to pass on that passion. Her campaign bequest to Conn resulted in the establishment of the Dorothy Roberts ’50 Outdoor Education and Leadership Fund. Becker observes, “Thanks to that gift, the Outdoor Adventures program supported by the fund has already become incredibly popular among students. Registrations often fill up on the first day they open. Students get to explore places like the Green Mountains of Vermont as part of their leadership training and mentorship. It was a parting gift from Ms. Roberts that has already had a huge impact, and it’s capitalizing on so much that is special about Conn.”
Besides student outdoor experiences, the fund also helps purchase equipment for students to explore sea kayaking, snowshoeing, winter hiking, backpacking and more—and all the while removing financial barriers that might otherwise prevent some students from experiencing the opportunities for discovery, bonding, challenge and growth that Outdoor Adventures drives.
Helene Zimmer-Loew ’57, meanwhile, took her Defy Boundaries bequest to Conn in a different direction. She did so through an estate gift that brought her full circle as someone who had participated in the first major fundraising campaign that followed her graduation, when she pledged $500 out of an annual salary—as a German teacher in Long Island—of $4,200.
That sense of commitment and service to Conn has been part of Zimmer-Loew’s life ever since, including as a class gift chair for 50 years, as president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors and as a member of the Board of Trustees. It all seemed to culminate in 2007, at her 50th reunion, when Zimmer-Loew established an endowed scholarship fund to support students for summer study abroad. She subsequently named the College and her fund as beneficiaries of her estate to further increase the value of her endowed fund. She has learned in more ways than one that this type of bequest is the gift that will keep on giving—not only to others but also to the donor. “Every year,” she reflects, “I receive lovely letters and pictures from students who have spent the summer abroad, often working on important issues. I’m very happy about that.”
The experience has turned her onetime gift into a continuing reward. “For someone who came from very little,” she says, “I have had a good deal of success and good fortune. I think it’s incredibly important that we support young people in pursuing the fine education like the one I received at Conn. I believe that is the way to go, to help people whenever you can.”
In allowing donors of all levels of capacity to make extraordinary gifts, bequests themselves defy boundaries. Most even provide a more material reward too, often (depending on the approach chosen) resulting in reduced estate taxes. Helping donors through those decisions is part of the reason Becker and her team find their work with donors as rewarding as they do. “We love having those conversations with someone exploring the potential of what a bequest gift can achieve,” Becker says. “We help strategize through the best options to achieve the donor’s goals, when they might want the gift to arrive at the College, what purpose they want it to serve, how it might provide income back to them and their loved ones, and how it might be used to reduce their tax obligations. There is almost no donor goal that a bequest can’t serve, and our job is to help them get the most out of it that they can—for themselves and for the College they care so much about.”
During Defy Boundaries, Becker has seen donors with massive capital resources make those kinds of gifts—and donors like Zimmer-Loew who wanted to find a way to do everything they could. This flexibility has allowed bequest donors to make such significant gifts that they have brought the campaign within reach of its $300 million goal. As Kim Verstandig, vice president for College Advancement, looks toward the rest of the campaign, she knows bequests will be a big part of its final success. “Donors at every level of giving are making this campaign work, whether with gifts to the Annual Fund, scholarships for students, fellowships for faculty or investments in our buildings and spaces. Bequests do something, though, that no other type of gift can—they create, in our lifetimes, an expression of generosity designed explicitly to go beyond it.”
With such gifts, the donors making bequest gifts through Defy Boundaries are doing more than signaling their confidence in Conn and the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who will create the College of the future. They also are joining the donors who first stepped forward more than 110 years ago to bring the institution into being. A fresh and extraordinary bequest challenge now awaits. As the breezes of the Thames River blow through New London and across Tempel Green, you may even hear those bells of yesterday ringing again with new hope and appreciation.
Hale to the Future
Karen and Rob Hale have pledged $15 million in a matching bequest challenge in honor of President Katherine Bergeron. “Karen and I deeply admire how much Katherine has done for Conn across her decade of devoted service,” said Rob, who is campaign co-chair and a member of the Board of Trustees and, along with Karen, has previously contributed more than $50 million to the College. “As Katherine concludes her incredible tenure,” he explained, “we wanted to honor her in a special way that would strengthen this great College and advance all the important work she has done for it. We hope that donors who may be considering making a bequest to Conn will take this opportunity to step forward now so we can achieve the goal of this historic campaign that Katherine has led from the start.” The Hales’ matching challenge will conclude on June 30, 2023.