Weinberg foundation trustees talk a bit Reclusive fund managers let in a ray of light.

December 17, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

In an article Dec. 17 on the Weinberg Foundation trustees discussing the group's charitable giving, The Evening Sun reported that the trustees broke a "yearlong silence" in an interview. Actually, the Baltimore Jewish Times interviewed the trustees earlier and published an article on the foundation's workings Dec. 6. The Evening Sun regrets the error.

Trustees of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation used a ground-breaking at St. Agnes Hospital to break a year-long silence yesterday, talking publicly about the mission and methods of the huge but reclusive charitable trust.

The decision to talk marked a change in style, but not substance. Trustees said they had no plans to expand the foundation's staff or solicit applications for grants.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

They said they would continue to make donations to well-established charities with proven track records.

The foundation, with assets valued at more than $743 million, is believed to be one of the 15 largest in the nation. Created when real estate magnate Harry Weinberg died 13 months ago, it has been keeping a low profile as its trustees attempted to deal with the requests that flooded its offices.

But in the past month, the trustees have turned out to see their money at work -- at a new soup kitchen for Our Daily Bread, underwritten with a $250,000 grant, and at St. Agnes, where a grant of the same size will pay for part of the hospital's $20.6 million expansion.

The trustees also hired a politically well-connected public relations firm, Image Dynamics, which last week sent out the foundation's first-ever news release announcing the gifts to Our Daily Bread, St. Agnes, and Meals on Wheels, which received $500,000.

This is business as usual for most large trusts, but a striking change for the Weinberg Foundation, which has an unlisted telephone number and, until yesterday, refused interview requests.

The trustees declined an offer to speak at the ground-breaking ceremony and did not hoist the red-white-and-blue shovels. "It's the hospital's show," said Nathan Weinberg, the benefactor's brother.

But the four trustees in attendance agreed to speak afterward in a conference room at the hospital.

"Given the fact that Mr. Weinberg died last November, it takes one to three years to see the results" of the gifts, said trustee Bernard Siegel, a Baltimore lawyer who appears most comfortable in the role of foundation spokesman. "It just so happens two things coincided. The pipeline, in effect, is gradually getting full."

Siegel was a long-time business associate and friend of Weinberg's. The other trustees include Weinberg's brothers, Nathan and William; Robert T. Kelly Sr. of Scranton, Pa.; and Alvin Awaya of Honolulu, who did not attend the ground-breaking.

Harry Weinberg, who made a billion-dollar fortune in real estate and related businesses, set up the foundation in his and his wife's names in 1959. Initially modest in size, it had more than $650 million in assets upon Weinberg's death and was giving away tens of millions.

With the eventual settlement of Weinberg's estate, its worth is expected to be almost a billion dollars. Under the tax laws governing charities, it could one day distribute up to $45 million annually.

Before Weinberg's death, however, the foundation existed in relative obscurity. It was only the disclosure that the bulk of Weinberg's fortune would go to the foundation that thrust the organization into public view.

Bags of mail began arriving at the foundation's offices at 3900 N. Charles St., even though the foundation takes no grant applications.

"We couldn't help but feel that the great bulk of [the mail] was caused by the media speculation, some of which was wrong," said Siegel, who cited no factual errors in reports on the foundation. "Given that, I think you will find [the foundation] will be somewhat more visible."

The four trustees said the foundation will make relatively few changes in the immediate future. The office still will be run by a one-man staff and the trustees, who said their duties take "100 percent" of their time.

The foundation also will continue to concentrate giving on established, well-known groups, such as the Salvation Army and United Way, both of which have already received large $l donations.

In recent weeks, the brothers have been on the road frequently, checking on potential recipients in New York City, Houston and Washington, D.C.

"There's no dearth of wonderful organizations," Siegel said. "If there's been one big, pleasant surprise, that's it."

"We've come to recognize almost by sight those that meet the general criteria," added Kelly.

Under the terms of the Weinberg charter, all giving must be to groups that serve the needy, with at least 25 percent going to Jewish causes and 25 percent to non-Jewish agencies. The trustees said they are particularly interested in groups that serve the elderly, since Harry Weinberg often spoke of the need to care for the aged.

"He felt they're the one group that gets short shrift," Siegel said.

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