Alumna gives $5 million to Wilson College program

May 18, 2001

Alumna gives $5 million to Wilson College program

Chambersburg, Pa.

By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

A Wilson College trustee and alumna has donated $5 million to the private school, earmarking it for the innovative Women With Children Program.

The college announced this week that Marguerite Brooks Lenfest, a 1955 graduate, and her husband H.F. Gerry Lenfest, had decided to make the gift after meeting the women and children in the program.

The program enables single mothers who are pursuing degrees at Wilson to live on campus with their children. Wilson, which is one of only a handful of colleges in the country with such an initiative, began its program in 1996 with three women. This fall it will be at capacity with 23 mothers and 28 children living in two-room suites in Prentis Hall.


Women in the program range in age from 18 to 38, and the children are from 6 months to 10 years old.

The $5 million gift will be used to pay for child care and the future education of children in the program.

The gift will be split, with $4 million going to the college's general endowment to pay child-care costs. And $1 million will be put in a separate fund and invested to help with the education of children of graduates from the program.

Scholarships will be given to children pursuing college preparatory education at Mercersburg Academy or higher education at Wilson College or another institution.

The gift translates into real savings for the women, said Mary Taylor, director of the Women With Children Program.

Women currently pay the child-care costs on top of tuition and room and board.

The endowment will save women $10,000 per child over a four-year period, Taylor said.

School-age children attend Chambersburg schools. Children older than 20 months can use the day-care on the premises. Mothers must find alternate care for younger children, but the endowment will cover all day-care costs, regardless of whether it is at the campus or a community facility beginning this fall, she said.

"We are very grateful that they have chosen to do this and support the students in this way," Taylor said.

Ten women have graduated from the program.

"What could be more important, if you have the wherewithal to make a gift, than helping future generations fulfill their dreams of receiving a college education from Wilson," Marguerite Lenfest said in a statement.

Gerry Lenfest, a 1949 graduate of Mercersburg Academy, made his fortune in the cable industry.

In 1974, he paid $2.3 million for Suburban Cable of Lebanon, Pa., which then had 7,600 subscribers. It grew into the largest cable system in the Philadelphia area, and in January 2000 was bought by Comcast Corp. of Philadelphia for $7.2 billion. The Lenfest family gained about $2.8 billion in Comcast stock.

The Lenfests, who live near Philadelphia, announced in October their original $10 million gift to the college. The most recent donation comes on the heels of the ground-breaking ceremony Sunday for Lenfest Commons, a $3 million project that will renovate two Wilson College buildings into the hub of campus activity in a state-of-the-art common area.

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