McDonogh School gets a $6 million bequest

January 31, 1995|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer David Folkenflik contributed to this article.

In what is believed to be the largest single gift to a Baltimore-area school, the McDonogh School has received $6 million from the estate of a devoted alumnus.

Michigan resident Clarence Burck, Class of 1928, named the school as the sole beneficiary of his trust. He died in November in Farmington Hills, Mich., at the age of 85. A widower with no children who called the school his "second love," Mr. Burck had no immediate survivors, school officials said.

"It's an absolutely thrilling gift, representing the extraordinary generosity of one man . . . and a lifetime of devotion to, and respect for, McDonogh's uncompromising commitment to excellence in all areas of school life," said McDonogh's headmaster, W. Boulton Dixon.

The $6 million bequest boosts by nearly 25 percent the school's roughly $24 million endowment, the interest of which subsidizes the campus' yearly operations. It was the largest single gift in McDonogh's 122-year history.

Earlier this month, the Park School in Baltimore County received pledges and grants totaling $4.1 million, including a $2 million grant from the Joseph Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds. The Meyerhoff gift, intended to match pledges made by Park School trustees, is the biggest donation in the school's 83-year history and kicked off its $10 million fund-raising drive.

Park School headmaster F. Parvin Sharpless called the McDonogh bequest the largest single gift he had heard of for any Baltimore area school. "It's the kind of thing that everybody would like to have somebody do," Mr. Sharpless said.

"I can think of gifts of a million or two, but I can recall nothing that big," said Byron Forbush, headmaster of Friends School of Baltimore.

Older boarding schools with a national profile are more accustomed to gifts on this level. Actress Jane Fonda donated $1 million to her school, Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y.; the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey recently received a gift worth $5 million; and in 1993, media magnate Walter H. Annenberg gave $100 million to his alma mater, the Peddie School in Hightsville, N.J.

McDonogh, founded in 1873 as a semi-military home and school for poor boys in northwestern Baltimore County, is now a coeducational private institution with 1,180 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In addition to day students, McDonogh maintains a small boarding population.

Sarah Ann Donnelly, executive director of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools, said the $6 million gift was "quite significant. There's no question about it." Most independent private schools consider gifts of only $1 million to be extraordinary, she said.

Although Mr. Burck did not live in Baltimore, he returned regularly and kept in touch with McDonogh friends, Mr. Dixon said. He was inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame in 1986.

Mr. Dixon said he met Mr. Burck for the first time in 1992 when he returned to the Owings Mills campus for founder's day festivities.

"I got to know him very well," said the headmaster, recalling that Mr. Burck would often say "my wife clearly was always my first love and McDonogh my second." Priscilla Burck died in 1992.

As Mr. Dixon recalled the story told to him, Clarence Burck was an orphan living in Baltimore with his grandfather when he came to McDonogh.

It was 1922 and young Clarence had gone to see a traveling circus. Late in the evening, his "granddad" went looking for him and found the boy quite taken with what he saw.

"I think I'm going to join the circus," he told his grandfather.

"I think it's time we got you in a good school," the grandfather replied.

The next fall he entered McDonogh as a seventh-grader.

After graduation, he went to St. John's College in Annapolis and the University of Michigan Law School. He worked for the FBI and later became president of a Michigan land title company. "He made his money through hard work and wise investments and frugal living," Mr. Dixon said.

According to the news release announcing the gift, Mr. Burck wrote to a fellow alumnus just days before his death, saying "Don't worry about me . . . . It has been a wonderful, happy trip and we've done everything which can be done to bring this adventure to a happy ending."

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