Catching up with Zanvyl Krieger WHERE CHARITY BEGINS

Benefactor: The Baltimore native does as he pleases with his millions. Giving it away pleases him enormously.

December 30, 1996|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

We all know it's better to give than receive. But few of us put that maxim in practice as mightily as Zanvyl Krieger. He gives away money in million-dollar chunks, $50 million to Johns Hopkins University alone.

So we find him at the height of the giving season discoursing on just why giving is better.

"I do it because it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to be able to benefit others," he says, with great simplicity and clarity. "I think the basis of life is satisfaction.

"We all do things to satisfy ourselves. If you have the money, you might as well enjoy it. I enjoy giving.

"There's no point in keeping it," he says, with the wisdom of a community elder. He turned 90 this year. "You can't take it with you. And the lines of communication from six feet under are not very good, you know."

He's a philanthropist in that grand Baltimore tradition of Enoch Pratt, Johns Hopkins, Henry and William Walters and Moses Sheppard, not to mention more modern givers like the Abells, Meyerhoffs and Knotts.

The Maryland Chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives named him Philanthropist of the Year for 1996. They figure he's given more than $100 million over the last decade and a half to "countless organizations."

His benefactions have, in fact, helped shape the Baltimore medical community, especially in children's medicine. His gifts helped raise the Kennedy Krieger Institute for children with disabilities to international stature.

He created the Zanvyl Krieger Eye Institute at Sinai Hospital and endowed the Krieger Children's Eye Center at the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute. He also funded the Krieger Mind/Brain Institute at Hopkins University.

"I enjoy doing things," he says, "creating things, creating things to help people, to make life more enjoyable."

And, perhaps more than any of the classic gift givers, one of the things he enjoys most is sports.

He was crucial in bringing the Orioles to Baltimore and instrumental in keeping the Colts "until Irsay came along." When Bob Irsay absconded with the Colts 12 years ago, he felt the loss "very, very badly.

"I was very distressed by that," he says, which seems to be the zenith of indignation he reaches. He is universally praised as a nice man and a great guy.

But he has yet to see a Ravens game.

He was the majority stockholder in the Orioles until 1979, when the team was sold to Edward Bennett Williams. And for a dozen years he was the principal owner of the Clippers ice hockey team.

His office at the law firm of Weinberg and Green is packed with baseball and football memorabilia. He's got the last ball thrown in the 1979 World Series, signed by all the players, another

signed ball from the Orioles' first major league season in 1954 and a third from 1958's All-Star Game.

He wears a Colts World Championship ring.

"I got that in 1958 -- the last World Championship the Colts won," he says. "It was the greatest football game ever played."

Like a happy kid with a Little League trophy, he says: "Do you wanna see it?"

It's a weighty hunk of solid gold with a diamond not quite as big as the Ritz. He's worn it ever since 1958.

"Yes, I have," he says. "I wear that and a World Series ring, too."

Vintage 1979, of course, but he doesn't have it on this day. He fell and injured his ring finger.

He won't pick a favorite sport.

"I don't know," he says. "It's like asking which child you like better."

Admired Brooks

He used to go to Orioles games at Memorial Stadium with Milton Eisenhower, then president of Johns Hopkins University, Krieger's alma mater.

"We didn't miss many games," he says. "He was a wonderful man, a great guy to go to the games with. He knew the game.

"We always admired Brooks Robinson. I sat as close to Brooks as I could. Right on the third base line."

The club didn't make him much money.

"No, it did not," Krieger says. "We didn't operate the baseball club to make money in those days.

"It was a sport," he says. "I never went into sports for money. I thought of it as a civic venture. I thought of it as something in the interest of the city."

And he says: "I got a lot of fun out of it and a lot of pleasure."

He finds contemporary baseball too highly commercialized.

"It has lost some of its interest as far as I'm concerned," he says. "It's not recognizable as a sport now. It's a spectator presentation."

His office on the 14th floor of 100 South Charles overlooks East Pratt Street and the Inner Harbor, about five blocks from Charles and Lee streets, where his family lived when he was born. He's retired from the practice of law now. But he comes to his office almost every day. It's his base downtown.

His family were brewers and distillers. They made Gunther beer on Dillon Street in Canton opposite the Hoffberger's National brewery. He and Jerry Hoffberger would become partners in the Orioles.

Later the Kriegers distilled Maryland rye whiskey: Old Discovery, Volunteer Rye, Sherbrook and Baltimore Pure Rye.

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