Caroline Palmer: Local Teacher Leaves Sizeable Bequest to Support the Community

When one of Central New York’s long-time school teachers passed away last year, her estate named the Central New York Community Foundation the recipient of nearly $300,000 to serve our community’s greatest needs.

Caroline Palmer, known to her many relatives as Aunt Carol, made everyone feel special and worthy of her attention. Whether it was a family member, one of her second grade students, or a friend from church, Carol was considered a person you could count on for honesty, patience and respect.

“She felt like a mom to me and I feel that she considered me as a daughter,” Pat Shute, Carol’s niece, recalled. “She didn’t have children of her own but she was supportive and she treated each person as they were. They were special to her.”

Carol grew up with seven sisters and two brothers during the Great Depression. The family was hit hard from the economic downfall, and her nephews attributed her giving nature to that early experience.

Carol and some of her sisters. Back: Ruth Pierce, Helen Shute, Claire Watson; Front: Carol Palmer, Alice Shute

“Being shaped by her own impoverished childhood made her want to help others, especially those affected by poverty,” said her nephew, Mike. Mike and Eric Shute, Carol’s nephews, recounted that blaming an impoverished person for their situation infuriated her because she said, “No one chooses to be poor.”

Carol attended Syracuse University followed by Hartford Seminary, and then began her life of service as the director of Christian education at a church in Connecticut. Later, she moved back to Syracuse to attend SUNY Cortland where she received her Master’s degree in Education. She also met and married Emiel Palmer, who worked for 39 years at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and who loved folk arts and charitable giving as much as Carol did.

“They never had children of their own, but she was like a mom to many of her nephews, nieces, great nephews, extended family members and likely many more,” said her nephew, Eric. “I was surprised at her memorial service to learn how many people she had helped. I thought it was just me.”

Portrait of Emiel Palmer, painted by his nephew, Eric Shute

After several years of ministry work, Carol switched careers, becoming a second grade teacher. She spent much of her time designing worksheets that were tailored to each student’s level of mastery. Because of this, each student was able to receive high marks and feel the satisfaction that they’d done well on their work.

In addition to devoting her attention to her students on a daily basis, she was famous for her annual classroom Thanksgiving production, which was documented in the Syracuse Herald Journal on November 28, 1974. Every year she brought a live turkey into the classroom to the delight of her city-dwelling students.

Each year, Carol brought a live turkey into her classroom, delighting all of her second graders.

To family members, Carol and Emiel extended their generosity by way of small loans for home mortgages. This afforded nieces and nephews a low mortgage as they started their young families and built their lives. Borrowers would deliver payments to Carol and Emiel’s home where they could chat and marvel at the couple’s collection of kaleidoscopes, quilts, and whatever was currently on Carol’s weaving loom.

Giving was central to Carol’s life. “It was really her way of fulfilling her Christian doctrine,” said Mike. In addition to helping her family and the Plymouth Congregational Church, Carol also supported the Southern Poverty Law Center, Berea College, The Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity.

Emiel, who passed away in 2002, and Carol worked their whole lives to accumulate their wealth. Their bequest, which formed the Carol W. & Emiel D. Palmer Fund at the Community Foundation, totals nearly $300,000.

Tom Griffith, vice president of development at the Community Foundation, said Carol was drawn to establishing an endowed community fund for its longevity. Community funds are designed to be broadly responsive and proactively address the evolving needs of the region through the Community Foundation’s grantmaking and initiatives.

“Part of our mission is to celebrate the legacy of people like Carol who care about Central New York,” he said. “We are honored that she chose to work with us in this way and look forward to stewarding her fund and her story for decades to come.”

Endowed community funds like Carol’s are designed to benefit the community in perpetuity. The Community Foundation uses a percentage of the fund each year to award grants to nonprofits or in response to crises. The remaining fund balance is invested, growing to keep up with inflation to increase the annual spendable allowance. Over time, the cumulative amount of grants awarded is expected to surpass the original gift used to seed the fund.

Carol and Emiel by their home. Carol’s skirt was handcrafted on her loom.

Carol was known to say to her family, “Who could ever imagine that we would be in the position to make these kinds of donations.”

Tom added how her legacy will carry on: “Now, Carol’s ability to make each person feel special will reach beyond her imagination as her generous spirit will live on through her fund, supporting generations of Central New Yorkers.”





Carol – I will remember you…
by Joan Pierce, Carol’s niece

Carol – I will remember you…

When I was a little girl, you hired me to make pictures to decorate your bulletin board at school; you paid me by making me beautiful knit tops and sweaters,

I was just a girl; it was my first job.

Once, you even took me out to dinner at a restaurant, it was my first dinner out, I was just a girl, I will never forget.

Carol – I will remember you…

When I was a woman, and I got sick, you made me baked custard, and delivered it to me.

When I was well again, and would call you to talk, you always sounded happy to hear from me, and when we would visit, you always made me feel special.

Carol – we will remember you…

Your house was like a museum, blown glass, antique lanterns, collectables everywhere,

There were brain teasers for bored children, special blends of tea for adults, and tasty homemade treats for all.

Carol – we will remember you…

Every year you opened your house before Christmas, inviting family in, and letting each, and every member choose a Christmas ornament.

Carol – we will remember you…

For your garden filled with beautiful flowers and sweet strawberries, which you shared with everyone, until a woodchuck moved in, reaping

the benefits of your hard work, and though you fought a hard battle, in the end, the woodchuck staked his claim.

Carol – we will remember you…

A fighter in every cause, fighting for human rights, equality for all.

We will remember you for your generosity to others, be it teacher, charitable donor, or loving family member.

We will remember you as another strong, brave and amazing Warner sister – who lived a long, honest, compassionate life.

Although you never had children of your own, we were all your children.

Carol – we will remember you.

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