If you land at Washington’s Dulles Airport from the south and look to the right as you glide in, you’ll see an enormous hangar complex just before you reach the airfield. Its gently curved roof, glinting silver in the sunlight, shelters one of the world’s greatest collections of aviation treasures.
Moreover, as you jet in, you may well be riding on a plane that belonged to the man who built that hangar complex. In 1973, Hungarian immigrant to the U.S. Steven Udvar-Hazy co-founded the International Lease Finance Corporation. Having started an unprofitable airline with leased aircraft, Udvar-Hazy eventually decided more money was to be made on the other side of the lease deal. The company he established eventually owned 1,000 aircraft and counted most of the world’s major airlines among its customers.
As Udvar-Hazy was growing his business, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum had a growth problem of its own. Its facility on Washington’s National Mall could not accommodate its fast-expanding collection. Udvar-Hazy stepped forward with a $65 million gift to build a museum annex adjacent to Dulles Airport, where aircraft joining the collection, even very large specimens, could simply be flown in and taxied over to the exhibition space.
Opened in 2003, the Udvar-Hazy Center is now home to hundreds of important artifacts, including the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; Space Shuttle orbiter Discovery; a Gemini capsule; a Concorde; an SR-71 Blackbird; the prototype for the first commercially successful jetliner, the Boeing 707; a Dassault Falcon that was FedEx’s first jet; and the GlobalFlyer, the first craft to circumnavigate the world nonstop without refueling. Multimedia offerings and a tower from which visitors can observe movements at Dulles and learn about air traffic control complement the collection. Says Udvar-Hazy: “I know this museum will impart to millions of children the same love for aviation that I have.” —Evan Sparks
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
D.C.’s Mr. Fix-it
David Rubenstein, co-founder of the investment firm the Carlyle Group, has been a major donor to institutions across the country. He’s given more than $40 million to Duke University, his undergraduate alma mater, more than $10 million to the University of Chicago, where he attended law school, and more than $30 million to Harvard. But he’s made his most distinctive marks in philanthropy in his home town of Washington, D.C. Dubbed “Washington’s Mr. Fix-it” by the Washington Post, Rubenstein donated the money that is now repairing the Washington Monument after it was closed by an earthquake two years ago. He gave the National Zoo $4.5 million to research panda fertility, hoping to smooth some of the species’ notorious mating troubles. Earlier this year, he pledged $10 million to restore the slave quarters at Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello, in nearby Charlottesville, Virginia.
Rubenstein’s giving is not simply reparative. His largest regional donations have created brand new things. In February, Rubenstein announced a $50 million gift to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to expand that crowded facility with three new pavilions, an outdoor theater, and public gardens. Also in February, he announced a $10 million “birthday gift” to George Washington’s estate, Mt. Vernon, to help build a new library for the president’s books and papers. The following month, Rubenstein was part of a group of local philanthropists who gave $30 million to the city’s National Gallery of Art for a 12,260-square-foot expansion of the museum’s exhibition space and a rooftop sculpture garden.
Rubenstein hopes his local arts and culture giving will encourage others to be generous. “Some people say that the best philanthropy is done anonymously,” Rubenstein told the Washington Post last year. “Other people would say that by being public about it, you encourage other people. I guess that’s the path I’ve chosen.” —Eleanor Barkhorn
Keeping Old Ladies Home
In the diverse tapestry that is American philanthropy, there are few threads quirkier than the Anna Emory Warfield Fund, a small foundation ($4.5 million in assets) whose mission is to support elderly women who want to remain in their homes “in the style to which they are accustomed.” To that end, the fund provides bite-sized grants—from as little as $100 to as much as a few thousand dollars per month—to pay for mortgages, food, and maintenance for elderly women, many of them former society matrons in the fund’s home city of Baltimore, who have outlived their assets or otherwise fallen on hard times. It does this with a minimum of fuss and almost no overhead: the foundation has a part-time bookkeeper, doesn’t pay its board, and employs just one part-time secretary (a grantee) who answers the phone a few hours a week in an office rented from a law firm. —Justin Torres
Help with the Little Things
In America, a poor child may be more likely to feel a pang of want or loss over something small than over something major. Thankfully few lack a roof over their heads, or enough calories to eat. But the impossibility of attending a camp, or having a music lesson, or buying a baseball glove—these can sting young children who don’t understand why their parents can’t provide. In the state of Delaware there is a philanthropic effort called the 21st Century Fund that focuses specifically on these small things that, while hardly necessities, can be sources of joy or pain for vulnerable young children.
The fund, donated by individuals and businesses, accepts applications for mini-grants of $100 or less to pay for things like art classes, guitar lessons, a bicycle helmet, or prom tickets. The goal is to help children exercise particular interests or talents otherwise not affordable or available to them, and in the process to help them define their strengths and build hope for the future. —Karl Zinsmeister
The Hometown Treatment
While most donors are familiar with naming opportunities, few have had an entire city named after them. But then the Scranton family of Pennsylvania has had a long and illustrious history of public service, not least that of William Scranton, the former Congressman, Governor of Pennsylvania, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. A quiet act of local charity may ultimately be William Scranton’s most enduring legacy.
Marworth, the magnificent family estate that was home to three generations of the Scranton family, was where Governor Scranton grew up and ultimately retired. Named for his parents Margery and Worthington, it is situated on a sprawling wooded property just north of the city that bears the family surname. In 1980, the governor and his wife Mary decided that they wanted to dedicate their home to serving the region that meant so much to them. Recognizing the dearth of residential substance-abuse treatment capacity in their area, they entered into an agreement with Geisinger Health Systems to transform Marworth into a sterling treatment facility for alcohol and drug addiction.
Since then, Marworth has housed over 40,000 patients—with a particular, fascinating focus on helping doctors and health-care workers suffering from addiction. The Scrantons (he’s 96) maintain a more modest home at the foot of their erstwhile estate, from which they can check in on the people being helped by their gift. —Tom Riley
A Revolutionary Oasis
In the June heat of 1778, the American army under George Washington—toughened by a season of stringent drilling by Baron von Steuben at Valley Forge and no longer an undisciplined semi-mob—pounced on the British at Monmouth Court House, New Jersey, during their leisurely withdrawal to New York City after wintering in Philadelphia. For hours, the Continentals fought savagely, and only the bungling of a senior American general saved the Redcoats from having an entire wing of their army crushed. Chastened, the main British army in North America withdrew into the island fortress of Manhattan, never to venture out again. Today, Monmouth is often an overlooked battle, with none of the underdog daring of Trenton or dramatic grit of Bunker Hill. But historians recognize it as a turning point, since it set in motion a chain of movements and events that eventually led to American victory at Yorktown.
In 1995, a vital portion of the battle’s legacy was in danger of being lost as developers eyed a 300-acre tract that was the scene of the heaviest fighting that day. The Conservation Fund stepped in to coordinate several local groups in preserving the battlefield by negotiating the purchase of property owned by AT&T, raising matching funds from the state, and piecing together hundreds of private donations. Today, Monmouth Battlefield State Park is a rural, eighteenth-century preserve amidst bustling suburbia, with undisturbed orchards, fields, woods and wetlands, as well as a restored Revolutionary-era farmhouse, all standing sentinel over this scene of American courage and revolutionary sacrifice. —Justin Torres
NEW YORK CITY
Private donors who overturned conventional wisdom by funding experimental projects were instrumental in rescuing New York City from the dystopian brink it reached at the end of the 1970s.
Beneath its sometimes rude exterior, New York City is actually a generous town. A study by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy concludes that, adjusted in the Center’s own way for the cost of living, high-income households in the New York metropolitan area give more to charity than in any other city—on average, nearly 9 percent of their disposable income. This dates way back. When a collection of businessmen decided after the Civil War that the city needed to add some polish to its industrial vigor, they quickly created what became the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, the local cultural institutions that are the beneficiaries of so much giving are in some ways what makes New York New York.
But what happens when it’s not a museum that needs help, but the culture of the city itself? By the end of the 1970s, New York City was broke, the Bronx was burning, crime and drug abuse were spiking, essential agencies seemed ungovernable, and racial tension was literally murderous. Dystopia lurked around every corner.
Once again, private philanthropy stepped in. Non-profit “Business Improvement Districts” were created to provide basic street services where the city government was falling down. Philanthropically supported research organizations like the Manhattan Institute spewed new ideas on how to tame and revive the metropolis. Donor-funded researchers like Charles Murray, Lawrence Mead, the Working Seminar on Poverty, and others churned out fresh ideas that, within a decade, led to new laws undoing the excesses of Great Society lenience and bringing an end to “welfare as we know it.” Similarly, idea-based philanthropy helped spread the “broken windows” understanding that tolerating petty offenses and visual blight will quickly lead to bigger crimes; amazingly, crime was pushed down to a fifth or less of its 1990 peak. Habitat for Humanity and numerous housing charities built blocks and blocks of single-family homes ringed by carefully tended lawns where two decades earlier empty arson-damaged towers had loomed.
As the gravest emergencies were gradually solved, smart philanthropists challenged prevailing assumptions in additional areas and improved other aspects of the city’s quality of life. Richard Gilder and allied donors formed the privately funded Central Park Conservancy to resuscitate the worn, dangerous park and turn it back into one of the city’s crown jewels. David Koch and numerous colleague-givers revitalized Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum. Robert Rosenkranz established a brainy live debate series called “Intelligence Squared.” A city where ugliness, dysfunction, and danger had become the norm was once again made livable. And private giving sparked most of the turnarounds. —James Panero
UPSTATE NEW YORK
West by Northeast
Though he was the progenitor of America’s famed school of cowboy art, the painter, sculptor, and illustrator Frederic Remington was not a westerner but an upstate New Yorker. Born and buried in Canton, New York, in the far north country near the U.S.-Canada border, Remington spent his youth there and in nearby Ogdensburg, hard by the St. Lawrence River, where he gloried in the local hunting, fishing, swimming, camping, and horse riding.
After Remington died, his widow Eva returned to Ogdensburg, where she too had grown up, bringing her husband’s personal collection of art and western artifacts with her. She tried to offer the Indian-related items to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, but reversed course when she learned that the museum would break up the firearms, clothing, saddles, and other items into separate displays. Eva instead donated the lot to the Ogdensburg library in 1915, and at her death added as a bequest the family’s own selection of Remington paintings, sketches, and bronzes, plus Frederic’s papers and personal effects, and other private memorabilia.
Local businessmen and philanthropists John Howard and George Hall offered $100,000 to erect a proper building in Ogdensburg to house this trove. The two patrons eventually provided the means to have the invaluable collection installed in the 1810 home where Eva lived out the end of her life, suitably renovated and opened to the public in 1923. In the years since, locals have continued to generously support the beloved museum, allowing it to add many additional items, and to expand into a second building.
Today, the “Benefactors and Supporters” page of the Remington Museum’s annual report lists ten full pages of area boosters—hundreds of individual donors plus regional businesses like the Heritage Clock Shop, the Busy Corner Cafe, and the North Country Savings Bank. Along with an active mix of teas, raffles, BBQs, and replica sales, these local angels sustain a top-flight art collection in a rural New York locale that remains nearly as wild today as it was during the formative years when Frederic Remington rambled its woods and streams. —Karl Zinsmeister
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