Philanthropists honored for supporting nonprofits

September 17, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • John "Jay" Waltersdorf and his sister, Grayson Oldfather, reveal one of three plaques dedicated Saturday in a new tribute garden to the Waltersdorf family and Richard A. Henson Foundation. Hagerstown philanthropist John M. Waltersdorf was their father. The garden is at Hagerstown Community College.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

They believed in the power of endowment. So it seemed natural that two philanthropic icons would come together with a visible and bold presence to help transform Washington County.

The year was 2004, and the Richard A. Henson Foundation, based in Salisbury, Md., approached the Community Foundation of Washington County with a unique challenge. It would commit $2.5 million in endowments and asked the local foundation to find a donor or business to match that commitment, establishing a $5 million pool of endowment money. This would then be made available for a dollar-for-dollar match to local nonprofits as they raised their own endowment funds for a possible total of $10 million.

David Beachley, a Community Foundation trustee, had been introduced to the idea and accepted. Now, he had to find a philanthropist to take on this locally unprecedented campaign.

That philanthropist was John M. Waltersdorf, and in 2005, the Waltersdorf-Henson Endowment Challenge was born.

When the Challenge Campaign ended in December 2010, more than $10 million had been raised, resulting in more than $500,000 per year in new operating capital for the 16 participating nonprofit organizations.

On Saturday afternoon, the Community Foundation invited area residents and businesses, as well as representatives of the campaign's participating nonprofits, to honor the John M. Waltersdorf Family and the Richard A. Henson Foundation.

The event featured the dedication and unveiling of a garden tribute area of the Waltersdorf Quad at Hagerstown Community College.

HCC President Guy Altieri said he hoped the students who pass by the garden each day "will learn of these two men who gave a great deal back to their community."

"The garden falls within the shadow of the new STEM building, and as we know, both Dick and John were men of science, engineering and math," he said. "To have this next to this building seems so appropriate to me."

Over the years, Altieri said he hopes other individuals and families who have worked to improve Washington County will be added to the tribute area on campus.

"It will be a very special way for students to daily be exposed to the number of fine people who have given back to the community," he said.

Grayson Oldfather, Waltersdorf's daughter, thanked the more than 100 people in attendance for being there to help celebrate the success of the Waltersdorf-Henson Endowment Challenge.

"I once had a conversation with my dad and asked him why he gave so visibly," she said. "He told me it wasn't about having a name on a building or plaque. It was about setting an example for others to follow. I want to thank those who did follow and made the Challenge a success."

John P. Sherwell, chairman of the Richard A. Henson Foundation, said Henson was born and raised in Washington County and with his success in aviation, "wanted to inspire people to be more and give back to the neighbors in their community."

"Today, as we honor two great men, I think both Dick and John are smiling down on us and saying, ‘I think we did well,'" he said.

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