BY ROGER SHAPIRO
It all started with a funeral in the early 1970s.
“I was about to leave the family’s home when I noticed a man standing in the corner. He was off by himself so I went over and chatted with him, and learned he was the father of the deceased,” said Ken Wildrick (M.Div., 1958; Th.M., 1962). That conversation led to the father coming to the Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, New Jersey, where Wildrick was the pastor. Then a golf game. Then a deep and treasured friendship.
Photo: Kim Schmidt
It turns out the father was “E,” the preferred name of Elwin Smith, owner of Smith Tractor & Equipment Company in Union, New Jersey, and the generous benefactor who established a scholarship fund for Princeton Seminary students. The Elwin H. Smith Scholarship Endowment Fund is now worth $2.63 million and is credited with helping 104 students since it was established in 1998.
This year, nine students are receiving some financial aid through this fund.
In the 1970s, Wildrick’s congregation of more than two thousand included many leaders in major corporations. “But E was different. He was a self-made man. He was down to earth,” said Wildrick.
As their relationship grew and Smith joined the church, he talked about his desire to make a gift from his estate to help future students. According to Wildrick—Smith died in 1980—Smith wanted to give money to a seminary to support future ministers. He felt that was more important than giving to just one church.
To help Smith explore options in supporting a minister’s education, Wildrick introduced him to people at Princeton Seminary, including James McCord, the Seminary’s president from 1959 to 1983, and Donald Macleod, the Seminary’s Francis Landey Patton Professor of Preaching and Worship Emeritus.
“Ken made a wonderful introduction,” said Jack McAnlis, the Seminary’s director of planned giving. “He was an ambassador and helped us extend our circle of friends by making a connection between the Seminary and someone who didn’t experience our scholarship first hand. Anytime our alumni/ae make these introductions, we gain a real gift of friendship.”
In this case, the gift turned out to be “very significant,” according to McAnlis. The bequest came in two stages from trusts that were set up to support Smith’s wife and daughter until each of them died.
By establishing the trust before he died, Smith became part of the Legacy Society, donors who have committed future gifts to the Seminary. Today, the society has approximately four hundred members. Membership includes alumni/ae and friends like Smith who are introduced to Princeton through those who care about the Seminary.
“Telling us about planned gifts is very important because it gives the Seminary professionals an opportunity to talk with donors to make sure we understand their intentions and to convey how their gifts will have an impact on educating women and men for church leadership,” said McAnlis. Often, the Legacy Society bequests are significant. “During the past ten years, the average estate gift was about $100,000.”
When those gifts support scholarships far into the future, it gives the Seminary opportunities to thank the donor, and to remind pastors how important introductions are. Students who benefitted from Smith’s legacy include M.Div. seniors Timothy Palmer and Anthony Livolsi, and Ph.D. candidates Amy Peeler, Mary Katherine Schmitt, and Kristin Helms.
“None of these students will meet E. But they all truly benefitted from the care Ken exhibited when he introduced E to Princeton Seminary,” said McAnlis.
Such introductions are not unique for Wildrick. He also introduced his entire congregation to the Seminary in 1985. At that time, the Benevolence Committee of the church wanted to honor Wildrick. The result was a gift leading to The Kenyon J. Wildrick Award for Excellence in Homiletics, an annual prize given to a graduating senior.
Wildrick also gave himself. He helped establish The Donald Macleod Preaching Lectureship at Princeton Seminary.
For information about supporting scholarships, the Legacy Society, or ways to introduce others to the Seminary, contact Rosemary Mitchell, vice president for Seminary relations.