Generosity of Former Students Creates Large Scholarship in Phoenix

Nearly $1 million gift will fund the District’s largest private scholarship

October 14, 2014 – Phoenix Central School graduates will soon have a new opportunity to assist with college costs thanks to a large scholarship fund recently established by an alumna of the district. After the March 2014 passing of Roberta Hurd, a graduate of the Class of 1939, the Robert & Roberta Hurd Scholarship Fund was established with a bequest gift to the Central New York Community Foundation – totaling upwards of $1 million.

The fund will award a $40,000 scholarship to a graduating senior. The award will be paid at $10,000 per year over four years if the student remains enrolled in college and in good standing. This is the largest private scholarship ever awarded through the Phoenix Central School District, located in a primarily rural Oswego County community 15 miles north west of Syracuse.

When Roberta established the fund at the Community Foundation, she requested that news of the scholarship remain confidential until after her death. The Community Foundation recently informed district officials of the gift, who were surprised and thrilled when informed of the new opportunity for their students.

“This generous gift is incredibly meaningful for our students who face financial barriers to college, and validating to us as a community because it came from former students,” said Judy Belfield, Superintendent of Phoenix Central School District. “Though Robert and Roberta graduated more than 70 years ago, their love of Phoenix and appreciation of their education journey left an impression that motivated them to give back in a big way.”

What may be most remarkable about this story is that Roberta and Robert led fairly modest lives. Robert worked as a tool and die maker and Roberta worked her entire life as an accountant first for American Woolen Mills in Fulton and then General Electric. They were a very devoted couple who were rich in love for one another. They remembered fondly their days in the Phoenix schools where they met during the 1930s.

Roberta was an excellent student and involved in many extra-curricular activities, including archery. Robert, one class year ahead of her, played many sports and was also a good student. They were always together, enjoying life’s adventures on camping and ski trips. They never had children, but both believed strongly in the importance of a good education, thankful for how well their Phoenix school experience set them up to succeed.

Robert died during Thanksgiving weekend in 1992, three months shy of their 50th wedding anniversary. Roberta went on to live another 20 years after his death, keeping her mind fresh by dabbling in the stock market and doing her own taxes each year by hand. But she always terribly missed the man she said was her true soul mate.

”In my last correspondence with Roberta shortly before her death, I made sure to emphasize the transformative nature of her gift for the students in Phoenix,” said Jennifer Owens, a vice president at the Community Foundation. “She was a remarkable woman who never got over the loss of her best friend, Robert.”

Roberta began her relationship with the Community Foundation in 1993, when she reached out to establish a scholarship fund in her husband’s memory. In addition to naming the fund as a beneficiary of her estate, she also took steps to increase the amount of her gift by other means. She transferred the ownership of a $500,000 life insurance policy in her name to the Community Foundation and established a Charitable Remainder Trust, which will help the fund grow larger at a later date.

The Community Foundation will focus on the investment and administration of the fund so that the school’s scholarship selection committee can focus on selecting the scholarship recipients. Enhanced by the Community Foundation’s endowment investment and spending policy, the fund is expected to increase its award amounts over time.

”The power of endowment takes the generosity of amazing people like the Hurds and ensures that their charitable wishes persevere through generations,” said Peter Dunn, President and CEO of the Community Foundation. “The Hurds had an interest in giving back to the community they loved and they put a plan in place to make it happen. We’re honored to be the stewards of their community legacy.”

Roberta requested that the scholarship be awarded to a student who falls within the top 15% scholastic rating of his or her class. On average Phoenix graduates 150 seniors a year, so approximately 22 students will be eligible for each year’s single award. In addition to scholastic achievement, Roberta established that the recipient student should demonstrate some level of financial need and exemplify moral values reflected by personal action and respect for family members, fellow students, teachers and the community.

“The Phoenix Central School District is a leader among local districts in student engagement with community volunteerism.” said Belfield. “We have students who log more than 500 donated hours during their high school careers. This award will allow us to honor some of those selfless students.”

Roberta’s love for her husband and their alma mater not only motivated her gift, but will live on in the lives of many children who will benefit from it.

“This gift will have an immeasurable positive impact on the lives of many children who might otherwise not have been able to pursue their dreams,” said Owens. “While the student beneficiaries of their thoughtfulness will not know them, they will surely appreciate their generosity and unselfish desire to invest in their futures.”

About the Central New York Community Foundation

Established in 1927, the Central New York Community Foundation encourages local philanthropy by supporting the growth of permanent charitable endowments for the betterment of the region.  The Community Foundation is the largest charitable foundation in the region with assets of more than $172 million. It awarded $9.5 million in grants last year to nonprofit organizations and since its inception has invested nearly $130 million in the community. The Community Foundation serves as the steward of charitable legacies for individuals, families and businesses through the administration of nearly 650 funds. The organization also serves as a civic leader, convener and sponsor of special initiatives designed to strengthen local nonprofits and address the region’s most pressing challenges.

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