A Bequest in 1925 Inspires a Family’s Philanthropy

August 3rd, 2009 / Gift Planning

Think about a bequest of $100,000 made in 1925 that created a scholarship fund. Even if you assume that the money has been effectively invested and generously awarded, you still might not be able to appreciate the enormous value this one gift has had over eight decades.

This bequest has not only provided financial aid for many hundreds of Princetonians—including nine students this year—but it has also inspired other members of the donor's family to make their own gifts as an investment in the future.

The original bequest of John G. Armstrong '1903 endowed a scholarship fund, which is named for John and his brother, Edward '1904. In 1999, Edward's widow, Sheila, established a charitable gift annuity, and then five years later, in 2004, her son, John M. Armstrong '67, established a charitable remainder unitrust.

Both Sheila and John's gifts will benefit a second scholarship fund that will open the Armstrong scholarship opportunity to students from New York and Connecticut, in addition to making awards to students from Michigan and Maryland. Sheila, who died in 2005, enjoyed life income from her gifts, as well the satisfaction of supporting an institution treasured by many generations of the Armstrong family.

John G. and Edward were two of four brothers, and the second of four generations of the Armstrong family who have attended Princeton. John M.'s wife, Rebecca '74, rounds out the Princeton connection. In the 1920s, John G. established the Armstrong Company, a "putty company" that would later merge with Dicks-Pontius Company to become DAP, a leading marketer of home repair and construction products. Edward, who was a surgeon, also served the company as chairman. Although DAP management later bought back the company, at one period in its history the company was acquired by Schering-Plough. Both Sheila and John M. transferred Schering-Plough stock to fund their gifts.

John M. Armstrong emphasizes that his gift was made to preserve Princeton's tradition of excellence. "To me, Princeton embodies excellence in scholarship, administration, faculty, students, excellence in all aspects, and excellence is expensive and in short supply," he says. "We live in a world where short-term interests predominate; people have time horizons of a week or a month or maybe a year. Excellence requires the long-term view and the courage to make short-term sacrifices."

Recognizing that the university did a "wonderful job" with the investment of his uncle's original bequest, which recently topped the $6 million mark, he is enthusiastic about making an investment in the University's future.