$3.5 million left to college's library

1932 graduate's bequest is 2nd-largest for McDaniel

April 13, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Each year for Christmas, Katherine Leidy Unger would send novels and biographies as gifts to her nieces and nephews.

So it came as no surprise to family members who learned yesterday that the McDaniel College alumna bequeathed money to the school's library.

What stunned them was the amount: $3.5 million - the college's second-largest gift ever, McDaniel officials said yesterday. The largest gift - $8 million - was given to the school in 1999.

"It was a shock to the whole family when we found out how much she was leaving," said Unger's niece, Beth Myers, 62, of Westminster.

Added McDaniel College President Joan Develin Coley, "It's hard to think of a strong enough adjective - thrilled, delighted."

Unger, who graduated in 1932 from what was then Western Maryland College, died in February in Hanover, N.H. She was 93.

Over the years, she had been a silent, but consistent, benefactor of the college, having given more than $150,000 for scholarships.

Family members said they have no idea how Unger made such large gifts to the school.

Unger repeatedly declined offers to have her name placed on classroom doors, office walls or even plaques, school officials said.

In a 1997 letter thanking former McDaniel President Robert Chambers for a poinsettia, Unger wrote: "I was a student at W.M.C. during the Depression years, and I was afforded special opportunities then (correcting papers and assisting professors). Now that I am in a position to show appreciation in a modest way to my alma mater, it is my pleasure to do so."

Myers, Unger's eldest niece, said her aunt would have been embarrassed by the attention the large gift has garnered.

"She was doing it for the good of education and the students, and not for any flag-waving for herself," Myers said.

Born in White Marsh, Pa., Unger grew up in Westminster and attended school here. She majored in English and history at Western Maryland, and taught English at Westminster and Manchester high schools for 12 years.

In 1945, she married another educator, 1920 Western Maryland College graduate W. Byers Unger. They moved to Hanover, where her husband, who died in 1975, taught zoology at Dartmouth College.

Family members said the couple loved books.

"It was really their gift," Myers said of her aunt's final donation to the college. "My uncle was just as involved."

Jennifer Leidy Koontz, 52, a niece who lives in Frederick County, remembered receiving biographies of Helen Keller and George Washington Carver as Christmas gifts when she was growing up in Westminster. She still has the dozen or so books.

"She was very fond of education and academia," Koontz said. "As my aunt, she always sent us books during Christmastime. It was obvious she had a lifelong love of education."

The gift to the school will become part of the library's endowment fund. The money will be used to enhance the library's book and periodical collections.

"Despite all the technological changes and the Internet, the library is central to the heart and soul of the intellectual community," Coley said.

Michele Reid, director of the college's Hoover Library, said a bookplate honoring the Ungers will be added to each new purchase.

"We do appreciate her thoughtfulness, and after all these years and after being a faithful alum, of giving us the gift," Reid said.

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