Deborah Simon Pledges $100 Million to SchoolPosted: Updated:
Hoosier philanthropist Deborah Simon is donating $100 million to her high school alma mater in Pennsylvania. Mercersburg Academy considers the gift the second-largest ever made to a U.S. private school. Simon is a 1974 graduate and serves on the academy's board of regents. October 10, 2013
MERCERSBURG, Penn. - In gratitude to an institution that helped shape her life at a pivotal time, alumna Deborah J. Simon of Indianapolis, IN, and the Deborah Joy Simon Foundation have pledged to make a $100 million gift to Mercersburg Academy, the largest gift the school has ever received, and the second largest single gift ever made to an independent school in the United States. A member of the Mercersburg Academy Board of Regents, Ms. Simon was a student at the college-preparatory school from 1972 to 1974. When combined with recent campaign gifts that include support for a new student center, Ms. Simon and her foundation have pledged total campaign gift amounts of $106,955,000.
The Simon donation is the lead gift in the school's "Daring to Lead" estimated $300 million capital campaign, and includes a matching component to encourage additional campaign contributions. In addition to funding an endowment for financial aid, the campaign will also support faculty development, enhanced facilities and innovative programming at the school.
"We are thrilled beyond words for this transformational gift and the confidence that Deborah and her foundation have placed in us," said Douglas Hale, head of school. "Because of their vision and generosity, young men and women from all walks of life will have access to an extraordinary education that will allow them to realize their potential."
"As a member of the board, I've had the opportunity to work closely with Doug Hale for a number of years, and am inspired by his vision for Mercersburg as a leader in independent school education," said Ms. Simon. "This is a place where faculty are encouraged to experiment with new ideas and technologies to engage students more fully in their education."
Located on 300 acres of picturesque landscape in South Central Pennsylvania, Mercersburg Academy provides secondary education to 374 boarding students and 61 day students in grades 9-12. At present, students come from 26 states and represent 40 countries, with just over half from the mid-Atlantic, and 23 percent international students.
The Simon gift will enable Mercersburg to realize one of its most important goals: to ensure that a Mercersburg education is affordable to every student the school admits. Mercersburg is committed to enrolling a student body that is not only ethnically and geographically diverse, but reflects the socioeconomic continuum. Currently, 32 percent of students receive need-based financial aid, and 49 percent receive a combination of merit and need-based scholarships toward tuition.
"Deborah's gift has shined a light on the Mercersburg tradition of a rigorous education and an egalitarian, student-centered culture as a model for secondary education across the country," Hale said. "We are hoping her generosity inspires others to be part of the philanthropic tradition in secondary education, because an investment in our youth at adolescence is a powerful force for good."
"Mercersburg aspires to provide national leadership in experiential learning that weaves technology into the classroom," said Hale. For example, on the heels of providing iPads for all students, in summer 2012, a number of Mercersburg faculty wrote, designed, and implemented their own e-textbooks for a variety of subjects including algebra, American studies, A.P. Latin, and writing music, aligning them with lessons and weaving interactive experiences throughout the curriculum.
Ms. Simon is a daughter of the late Bess Meshulam Simon and the late Melvin Simon. In 1960, her father founded Melvin Simon & Associates in Indianapolis, Indiana, a company that he and her brother David grew to become Simon Property Group, Inc. (NYSE:SPG), the largest real estate investment trust in the world. Active in supporting youth education, Ms. Simon is chair of the Board of Directors of the Simon Youth Foundation (www.syf.org), a public charity that operates in 13 states to provide financial and academic support to high school students at risk of dropping out of school. The Deborah Joy Simon Foundation is a private foundation that makes grants for religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes.
"Many people consider preparatory schools to be places that shape students to a certain mold. But Mercersburg was, and continues to be, a place where every student can be himself or herself," said Ms. Simon. "Mercersburg remains dedicated to bringing out the best in what each student has to offer. It's freeing and empowering as a teenager to be accepted for your uniqueness, and to grow up with friends from different cultures and backgrounds."
During her career at Mercersburg, Ms. Simon was actively involved in Stony Batter Players, the student theatre organization founded in 1899, in which Academy Award-winner Jimmy Stewart '28 was a participant. In 2006, she contributed $3 million to build a 600-seat, state-of-the-art proscenium theatre within the school's Burgin Center for the Arts. This fall, Mercersburg also celebrates the dedication of the newly renovated Simon Student Center at Ford Hall, which will be the nerve center for the school's Residential Life Program. A $5 million gift from Ms. Simon helped develop this project, part of the current Daring to Lead campaign. Over the years and including the current pledge, Ms. Simon and her foundation have given a total of $111,208,830 to Mercersburg.
Previous gifts of this caliber to independent schools include former kindergarten teacher Barbara Dodd Anderson's $128 million gift to the George School in 2007 and a $100 million gift by Walter Annenberg to the Peddie School in 1993. Mercersburg's previous largest contribution was a $35 million gift by alumnus and former President of the Board of Regents H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest '49 in 2000. His earlier gift for the school's Centennial Campaign (1990-1998) supported the construction of Lenfest Hall, the Academy's 45,000 volume library.
Other prominent Mercersburg Academy alumni include Richard "Dick" Thornburgh '50, former U.S. attorney general and governor of Pennsylvania; Burton Richter '48, Nobel Laureate in Physics; Robert Weis '37, former Chairman, Weis Markets; Richard Cass '64, president, Baltimore Ravens; Betsy Mitchell '83, Olympic gold medalist in swimming; and Academy Award-winner Benicio Del Toro '85.
About Mercersburg Academy
Founded in 1893 in the heart of south central Pennsylvania, Mercersburg Academy is an independent, coed college-preparatory school offering a rigorous academic program to 435 boarding and day students who represent 26 American states and 40 nations. The school prepares young men and women in grades 9-12 and post-graduate from diverse backgrounds for college and life in a global community. Mercersburg alumni include Rhodes scholars, Olympians, Oscar-winners, and a Nobel laureate. For more information, please visit www.mercersburg.edu.