The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades in Media, Pennsylvania — enrollment two hundred and fifty — has received endowment gifts totaling $45 million from area couples Henry and Lee Rowan and H. FitzGerald (Gerry) and Marguerite Lenfest, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Rowan, founder of Inductotherm Corp., and his wife donated $25 million to the school, while the Lenfests, who established the Lenfest Foundation, contributed $20 million. The size of the gifts compared to the school's enrollment stunned some philanthropy experts. "Wow, that's really significant," said Rae Goldsmith, vice president for communications at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. "A gift that size to a trade school is going to be very rare. I just haven't heard of it before."
The Rowans originally pledged a $5 million challenge gift to the school in December, to which the Lenfests responded with their own $20 million challenge gift. The Rowans matched the Lenfests' gift, making the total nearly enough for the school to reach its campaign goal of doubling its $50 million endowment. According to Williamson president Paul Reid, once the campaign is over, the endowment will generate enough revenue to pay two-thirds of the school's annual operating costs.
"I think they are educating a unique group of people in a unique way," said Henry Rowan. "They take kids from limited finances and teach them a trade. They run a very highly disciplined environment, and they turn out some great people."