Jeff Corwin ’65
’s planned gift—and the story behind it—are about loss and resolution, memories, gratitude and the desire to make a tangible difference in the lives of others.
When Jeff arrived at Blair as a junior in fall 1963, it was his fourth school in as many years following the death of his mother. With his father frequently away on business, the once-studious Jeff, lacking structure and supervision, had settled into bad study habits and struggled to stay motivated. His father hoped that boarding school would remedy this by providing a more constructive environment. “I really enjoyed Blair that first year and made great friends, but I certainly didn’t apply myself,” Jeff recalled. Henry Cowan ’59, then director of studies, took note of Jeff’s lackluster performance and suggested military enlistment as an option after graduation. “With the Vietnam War ramping up,” Jeff continued, “his comment caught my attention!”
Jeff made considerable academic progress, graduating from Blair and matriculating at The College of Wooster, where he majored in psychology. While home for spring break in early 1966, he met Ronnie McLean, who was delivering newspapers in his neighborhood. Ron had just turned 15 and confided in Jeff that his stepfather’s abusive treatment had left him essentially homeless. Jeff gave Ronnie $5 and the number of the pay phone in his dormitory in case the young boy needed support. “I understood what it was like to be on your own with no one to turn to,” Jeff reflected. “I was impressed with Ron’s resilience. He was a nice kid who was circumstantially caught in a terrible and lonely situation.”
Three days later, Ronnie used the money to buy a bus ticket to Wooster, Ohio, making the four-hour trek alone, intent on finding Jeff—the only person he knew who might help him. Over the course of that spring and summer, the two became close friends as Jeff sought to help Ronnie navigate his difficult circumstances, calling him “the younger brother I never had.”
Seeking a longer-term solution for his friend, Jeff called Blair to see if the School would consider Ronnie for enrollment in the fall. According to Jeff, Ron had all the ability to succeed at Blair, but the two lacked the funds to pay tuition; still, Jeff assured the School that he would somehow raise the money and pay the bills. “We were driven by necessity and determination with an added measure of teenage ‘can-do’ confidence,” he recalled.
Having been appointed Ronnie’s guardian at the age of 18—essentially his parent in Blair’s eyes—Jeff drove Ron to Blair in early October. The School housed Ronnie in a spare bedroom in the Marcial’s home until space opened up in Locke Hall. Ronnie had the additional good fortune of having Henry Cowan as his advisor less than two years after Mr. Cowan counseled Jeff.
Unfortunately, Ronnie was only afforded that one year at Blair and consequently had no choice but to return to his local public high school and fend for himself at the age of 16. Jeff graduated from Wooster and moved to Massachusetts to teach at a private day school. He and Ronnie stayed in touch, although their separate paths and distance made frequent communications difficult. In November 1970, Jeff learned that Ron had died tragically at the age of 19. “I was more than devastated; Ronnie was such an incredible person,” Jeff said of his reaction to the news. “He found joy in each day, no matter the hardships that he faced, and was eager to share his enthusiasm for life with everyone. We had become spiritual partners in life—a bond that escapes description even now.”
Another 41 years passed before Jeff returned to Blair. “I avoided reconnecting because it was just too painful,” he explained. “I had never really accepted Ronnie’s death or faced the grieving that was still waiting for me when I emerged from that denial.” During that first visit to Blair in 2008, as Jeff talked with Chan and Monie Hardwick, he found an opportunity to carry forward Ronnie McLean’s inspiration by establishing the J. Ronald McLean Memorial Endowment, which provides financial resources for an on-staff professional counselor. Its mission references “the vital importance that individual counseling may provide for current and future generations of Blair students as they negotiate the dynamic emergent paths of adolescence.” Even just recognizing the need for such support is a step toward helping students who are struggling, allowing them to fully embrace all that a Blair education offers.
Jeff’s planned gift through his living trust will add to the size of the J. Ronald McLean Memorial Endowment, ensuring that it carries forth in perpetuity the Blair experience for future generations of students. “The more you give of yourself, the more that comes back to you, often in unexpected ways,” he said. “Taking the time to listen and giving just those few dollars to Ronnie started a sequence of events that would change and greatly enrich my life. For me, including Blair in my estate is a way of expressing my appreciation of what Blair did for me. It also allows me to focus on a constructive purpose, rather than simply on the pain of a difficult and tragic loss. Blair is dedicated to developing the whole individual with a special emphasis on service to others who are often less fortunate. The School is teaching kids to reach out, get involved and make a difference. I believe that Blair students are going to carry forward that vision and influence.”
A recent chapel talk by Sophie Shoemake ’15 underlined the importance of Jeff’s gift now and for the future. Addressing the mental health issues that young people face, she advised: “Teens struggle with mental health issues more inwardly than outwardly. I want people to know that if you need help, ask for it! There are people out there equipped to help you and many of your peers share the same struggles you do.”
With his 50th reunion approaching in June 2015, Jeff wants to ensure that Ronnie’s legacy is carried forward. As for his part, Jeff explained, “By my own measure, I would like to be able to feel that in the course of my lifetime, I have put back just a little more than I have taken out. The J. Ronald McLean Memorial Endowment at Blair will be a part of that measure.”
Jeff’s role as a proud parent to four children, who were each without a permanent home or family at the time he adopted them at the respective ages of 12, 10, 9 and 6 months, is another integral part of the legacy he will leave. They are now 43, 38, 33 and 15. “I believe that you can make a difference, one person at a time,” he concluded. “Ronnie’s spirit and inspiration lives on in each of them.”
By the time Marianne Lieberman ’79 arrived on campus as a new junior in 1977, the Lieberman family was already a well-known Blair entity. The youngest of four children, Marianne has two brothers, Michael ’71 and Mark ’74, who took advantage of the athletic and academic opportunities Blair offered to put their stamp on the wrestling and football programs and become successful student-athletes. And their Uncle Jack—John O. Doern ’48—paved the road for all three of them, having graduated almost three decades before. Since then, scores of Lieberman family members have attended Blair, each sharing in the family legacy and making Blair their own.
It’s no secret that letting your children leave home is no easy task for a mother. But Jean Doern Lieberman, Jack’s sister and the mother of Michael, Mark and Marianne, witnessed firsthand the positive impact Blair had made on her brother—and later her own children—so including Blair in her will seemed like a natural response. Simply put, “Blair helped raise my kids.” Everyone knows the expression “actions speak louder than words,” and for a mother who worked hard to teach her children the importance of giving back, Jean’s decision to make a planned gift came as no surprise.
For her part, Marianne—herself a mother of two children with her wife, Carolyn Grant—shares Jean’s faith in the School and takes pleasure in watching her daughter Meghan ’17 grow up on the Blair campus. Naming Blair in her will, alongside her mother, merely underscores her belief in the value of a Blair education. “There is no greater joy than having the opportunity to help an institution that is making a meaningful contribution to society. Blair is about the work of educating our future leaders by teaching them critical leadership skills and equipping students to serve their communities and the world at large with their own distinct talents and gifts.”
Recalling her own Blair experience, Marianne credits the School with exposing her to a much larger world view. “Interacting regularly with students from all over the world, engaging in meaningful intellectual discussion with caring, dedicated teachers, debating articles in The New York Times—these all helped me to discover my own passions and gave me the confidence to express my ideas and opinions unapologetically,” she said. “I learned that if you really want something, you have to go for it.” And that she did.
Stacey McConnell, a seasoned Blair parent and successful estate-planning
attorney, understands better than most how to maximize her assets. She
also knows the value of a Blair education.
As the parent of four Blair graduates—Claire ’05, Craig ’07, Graham’10
and Jane ’12—Stacey has spent a lot of time on campus visiting her children’s
classes, watching sports contests and attending a wide variety of school-related
events. She eventually joined the Board of Trustees in 2005, serving
as chair of the education and school life committee until just a few months
ago. So when it comes to inquiring about Blair and the value of the Blair
experience, she’s armed with a well-informed reply—a response developed
from observing the impact Blair had on each of her own children.
“When I received Claire’s first advisor letter in the mail, I thought to
myself, ‘wow, they really know my child,’” she recalled. “Adolescence can
be a very difficult period for children, and it was clear to me early on in
our relationship with the School that the faculty were not just preparing my
kids academically, but were educating them in every aspect of their life,
socially, emotionally and in terms of their overall character development,”
The diversity of the student body and her children’s exposure to kids from different cultures and socio-economic
backgrounds was also extremely valuable. “Blair helped my children develop more empathy toward others; it changed
their view of the world, cultivating in them a cultural
sensitivity and global perspective that is hard to find in a
typical suburban-private-school setting,” she added.
Therefore, when approached with the opportunity
to support Blair through an estate gift, the decision was
easy—and not just because she’s a lawyer. “It’s as simple
as naming Blair as the beneficiary of a percentage of
your retirement assets by writing Blair Academy in the
blank space when you do the paperwork; it’s that easy!”
she exclaimed. And, while retirement assets are clearly
not the only way to make a planned gift to the School,
the experienced lawyer and mother of five points to the tax advantages of such a gift. She explained: “Naming Blair
as a beneficiary of a retirement account is a tax-effective way to leverage your gift to the School: Blair gets every
dollar to add to its endowment, which acts as an insurance policy that guarantees a healthy future for the School.”
Why make an estate gift to Blair now? Ask Stacey McConnell. She’s already thinking of her grandchildren and
making choices to ensure that they have the same educational opportunity that her own children did. “The valuable
lessons my children learned at Blair will be with them the rest of their lives, which is something worthy of paying
forward to the next generation,” she concluded.
Michael Cleavenger ’69
the value of planned giving. He’s
in the business of fundraising and
is passionate about his work—work
that enables him to give back to
his community and improve the
infrastructure of his hometown of
A professional fundraiser for nearly
two decades, he has spearheaded
successful campaigns for a long list of
noteworthy Chicago institutions, such
as the Illinois Institute of Technology,
Chicago History Museum, Victory
Gardens Theater, La Rabida Children’s
Hospital, and most recently, the
Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. As
for including Blair in his will, Michael
explained that, “Blair gave so much
to me and is an exemplary institution
which deserves my support.”
Michael arrived on Blair’s campus in
the mid-1960s, a particularly turbulent
time in America’s history and a time
when many parents—like his—felt that
boarding school would be a safe place
for him to come of age. What he got,
though, was much more than just a
safe haven to finish high school. For a
midwestern kid coming to an east coast
boarding school, Michael found Blair
to be a genuine place that he could call
home. As he put it, “Blair is so much
more than just a school where you go
to study and play sports. An important
part of the process was learning to
live in a community. Looking back
on it, I think it was the experience of
communal living that helped cultivate
a maturity in my classmates and me
that is hard to duplicate elsewhere.” To
underscore his point, he recalled a time
when then-Headmaster James Howard
allowed him to lead a chapel during
which he addressed a number of
controversial topics, describing it as a
valuable opportunity to create a healthy
dialogue between his characteristically
rebellious generation and the School’s
administration. He continued, “Blair
was truly the centering of my life; it
provided the academic discipline and
grounding that I needed to succeed
down the road.” And that realization,
years later, inspired Michael to include
Blair in his will.
Armed with the knowledge
that planned gifts are an easy and
important way to provide a lasting
legacy for future generations,
Michael can envision what his gift
will do for the School, which has a
smaller endowment than many peer
institutions. “For individuals who
cannot make an outright major gift, a
planned gift is a perfect way to support
the School and help secure its future,”
said Michael, who noted that his
bequest does not replace his annual
commitment to the Blair Fund or his
involvement in other ways, such as
volunteering to mentor Blair graduates
and to host Blair events in the midwest.
In fact, over the years, supporting
Blair has become a family affair: the
tradition continued when his daughter,
Cormany Kelly (Cleavenger)
Koeppen ’01, arrived on campus in
1999. And having just added a new
generation to the mix—Kelly’s daughter,
Grace, just turned 1-year old in late
January—the Cleavengers have their
eye on what their careful planning will
do to support the class of 2031.
Like many Blair parents, Nora and Maddy Grose, parents
of Jordan ’12, cite Blair’s student-centered focus
and quality of academics as key factors that helped shape
their son’s successful experience at the School. They went
one step further, however, and decided to include Blair in
their will so that future generations of students can enjoy
the same benefit. In short, they took a simple step that
has a lasting impact.
While Jordan was a student at Blair, the Groses
remained closely connected to both him and the School.
They served as co-chairs of the Parent Fund Group
and were also members of the Board of Trustees from
2010-2012. Most recently, Nora served on the Search
Committee that led to the installation of Chris Fortunato
as Blair’s 16th Head of School.
When asked why they chose to make a bequest to the
School, Nora’s response was straightforward: “We felt
it was important to lead by example, and quite frankly, Blair needs more funds to grow its endowment in order
to keep pace with its peers and ensure the School’s
Maddy and Nora describe Jordan’s enduring friendships
with both faculty and students as one of the most
important aspects of his Blair experience. “Jordan enjoys
a network of support that began at Blair but continues
today, even as he attends Boston College,” noted Maddy.
“Blair understands the unique role it plays in helping
students prepare for college and beyond. The students
come in as kids and leave as confident, mature adults
who, along with the help of others, are ready to face a
A final word of advice from the Groses: “Don’t let the
busyness of life prevent you from including Blair in your
estate plans. It’s quick and easy to add a provision to
your will.” After all, quipped Maddy, “There is no U-Haul
on the hearse.”
Mark, second from left, and his family during Alumni Weekend 2012.
Mark Gottesman ’62
is a talented, humorous fellow with a big heart for Blair. Best known for his witty letters to classmates filled with entertaining tales of suburbia alongside pleas for Blair Fund gifts, Mark has served the School faithfully as a class representative extraordinaire since 1969. A gifted communicator, his annual letters and personal outreach helped keep his classmates connected to the School and to one another, fostering the spirit of the Blair community with poise and grace for over four decades. For these and other efforts, the School honored Mark at his 50th reunion by naming him the 2012 Alumnus of the Year.
Those who know Mark personally, however, know that it is not public recognition he seeks, but rather an opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of others. For this reason, Mark took the lead in spearheading his classmates’ efforts to fund two important gifts to the School: the Class of ’62 Scholarship and the Class of ’62 Teaching Fellow. Soon after his reunion, Mark and his wife Janet established a Charitable Gift Annuity, in part to help his class reach their reunion class goals. When asked why he chose a CGA (apart from the fact that he was simply taking the wise advice of a good friend), his response was twofold: “I like the fact that I’m still alive to appreciate the impact my gift is making on the School and financially, it just makes good sense. The gift helps reduce my overall taxable income and the money I receive on a quarterly basis in return is tax-exempt.”
Grateful for the Blair education he received “way back in the sixties,” Mark also cites the School’s visible progress and forward momentum as another motivating factor towards his decision to give. “I feel good about the School’s overall growth in terms of its expanded facilities, excellent teaching faculty and increased financial strength. It’s certainly not the same school as when I attended, but I can personally identify with the impact it has on young generations of students.”
With inimitable style and generosity of heart, Mark’s decision to establish a planned gift helps both Blair and himself—a wise investment for a loyal alum and a top-notch school.
Like so many Blair students, when Keith Patten ’69 first set foot on Blair’s campus, he had no real idea what he was getting into or where he was heading. Just making it to class on time in proper attire and managing the hectic daily schedule of practices, meals and homework were challenge enough. Not until many years later—indeed nearly 40—did Keith gain the perspective of time and distance to fully appreciate the impact of his Blair experience.
An avid swimmer, capable student and East Hall prefect during his three years at Blair, Keith went on to the Naval Academy and performed eight years of active service before moving into the business world to establish a successful career in health services. Looking back, he remembers being “far better prepared than the vast majority of his peers” to adapt to the demands of college life. “It was at Blair that I acquired the academic foundation and crucial life skills that enabled me to succeed in college and beyond.” Keith credits Paul White, his college counselor and swim coach, with taking a personal interest in him, offering steady guidance and encouragement to attend the Naval Academy.
With the demands of naval service and developing business ventures garnering his attention, Keith gave little thought to Blair until his 40th reunion, where he reconnected with the School and former classmates. “After a long hiatus from any contact with Blair, being on campus opened an unexpected floodgate, bringing back a steady stream of vivid memories and the realization that Blair was the school that laid the foundation for my future success.” That is when Keith and his wife, Debbi, made the decision to name Blair as part beneficiary of the family’s trust.
By doing so, Keith has made a planned gift that serves to strengthen the School’s endowment, while also helping to guarantee the valuable benefits of a Blair education for future generations. What Keith enjoyed all those years ago—a personal connection with a faculty member deeply invested in his growth and success—has long been a distinguishing characteristic of a Blair education.
But the story doesn’t stop there. Keith found a way to mentor other Blair graduates through his role as a U.S. Naval Academy Foundation Trustee: he and Debbi sponsored recent Blair graduates and current Naval Academy midshipmen Austin Branch ’11 and Sean Reilly ’12 by hosting them at their home in Maryland. And so it is that these two young men enjoy the privilege of connection with a seasoned Blair alumnus who once traveled a similar path.
“I’m not as wealthy as some, but in planning my estate, I wanted to put my money where it would have the greatest benefit.” So says Jon Ten Haagen ’62, avid sailor, jazz aficionado and Certified Financial Planner (CFP), reflecting on his bequest to Blair. “The School can use it for scholarships, to increase faculty pay—really, whatever is needed.
”Jon’s establishment of a planned gift followed a lifetime of support for the School. He has loyally contributed to the Blair Fund, and he even made a special gift to dedicate the ceiling fans in the dining hall in memory of his parents, Elizabeth and former Trustee Roy Ten Haagen ’35.
What inspired this generous support? “Blair is a special place,” Jon says. Coming to school here gave him the opportunity to meet friends from all over, study with a unique, eclectic faculty, play sports that were more intense than any he’d ever experienced, and take part in some pretty memorable pranks. All of this—especially the camaraderie that is alive and well among his classmates to this day as they celebrate their 50th Reunion—contributed to an overall “fabulous” experience.
“My Blair experience was instrumental in developing my ability to work with all kinds of people and in shaping my feelings about morality and life,” he noted, “and my life has definitely been better because of it.” And by providing for the School’s future, Jon has helped to ensure that students will continue to benefit from the Blair experience that has meant so much to him.
Like many Blair parents, Richard and Chrysa Graber, parents
’06 and Nick ’09, give high marks to the School for their sons’
outstanding experience here. However, Richard and Chrysa are somewhat unique
among Blair parents—they have helped make that experience available to future
students by including the School in their will.
Part of the inspiration for the Grabers’ gift is the “core feeling” so evident on Blair’s campus. Chrysa describes it as an encompassing sense of community, family and caring. “As a parent, when you send your children to boarding school, you want to know that there is someone there who cares as much as you do. At Blair, I know this is true.” Richard agrees wholeheartedly. “Blair’s faculty and staff are remarkable,” he notes. “Their focus is always on the kids!”
The Grabers describe how the academic foundation, study habits and time management skills both Alex and Nick gained at Blair served them well in college, as did their participation in a wide variety of Blair activities. “Blair gives students an amazing opportunity to grow, yet still have fun and be kids,” Chrysa remarks. “It’s a great balance.”
While their sons were Blair students, the Grabers volunteered on campus and served as members of the Parent Fund Group. Then Richard joined the Board of Trustees in 2009, and he became well aware of what he terms the School’s single “glaring weakness”—a relatively small endowment, which limits Blair’s ability to secure its financial future and to provide crucial scholarship aid. To help the School build the endowment, the Grabers decided to include Blair in their estate plans.
“We considered several giving options when we made our will, but Blair is where the money is needed, so this is where we decided it should go,” Richard says. “Besides, I’ve seen firsthand how careful and conscientious the School is about spending and investing. Blair is where our money will be put to the best use.”
A final word of advice from the Grabers to Blair parents: “Enjoy your children’s time at Blair—it will flash by before you know it!
Jonathan Paul ’61 describes his life as an “unbroken chain of fortuitous events” set in motion by the incredible opportunity of his Blair experience. The son of former faculty member Gordon Paul, he came from a family of modest means, but Blair gave him the foundation to achieve his dreams.
Jonathan enjoyed a long career in computers that began with his first job out of Columbia University as an IBM systems engineer and concluded with his recent retirement as chief technology officer of Global Weather Dynamics, Inc. He traveled the world, visiting over 100 countries for business and pleasure. And, as pilot of his own small plane, he logged thousands of flights over the years, including a 13-hour, non-stop, coast to coast trip—in his words, “a feat!”
Recently, Jonathan and his wife, Gayle, reviewed their estate plans to decide how they eventually wanted their assets distributed. As Jonathan’s 50th Blair reunion approached, and having supported the Blair Fund loyally for years, the Pauls decided to make a bequest to Blair.
“It was something of a revelation to realize that you don’t have to be a ‘fat cat’ rich guy to make a bequest, and this gift is advantageous both to us and to Blair,” Jonathan said. He noted the tax benefits that charitable giving will have for his estate and the fact that the bequest will likely be a bigger gift to Blair than he could make in his lifetime. In addition, making this gift now allows Blair to “plan ahead a bit,” as he put it, since most estate gifts help to build the endowment.
Jonathan noted that the School has expressed great appreciation for his bequest, but, he quipped, “It’s really the most painless way to give. After all, you can’t take it with you!”