25 Years Later: Reflections
From the Peddie Chronicle Spring/Summer 2018 issue
Headmaster Peter Quinn served as Peddie’s admission director from 1991-96. He oversaw the admission office in the years immediately following Annenberg’s $100 million gift.
“The extraordinary events of June 20, 1993, are still vivid for me. There had been a hint in Head of School Tom DeGray’s mysterious comment earlier that spring to ‘ignore our financial aid budget’ for the coming year. There was the heads-up from Tom to the faculty at the end of our June meetings that there would be a major announcement soon. When the news broke, we scrambled for copies of Sunday newspapers at Krauszer’s. Later that day, I remember sitting at a bank of specially-ordered temporary phone lines with Tom, Board Chair Finn Caspersen ’59, Business Manager Charlie Galbraith and Development Director Anne Seltzer answering inquiries from families and the press. Then, the joyous, impromptu gathering a couple of days later at the DeGrays celebrating the great gift and the remarkable national attention that was suddenly focused on our respected but obscure school. It was both a lottery-like experience (for the surprise and size of the gift) and nothing like the lottery because it was a gift from a man we loved, and who loved Peddie.
Ambassador Annenberg had always been generous, but the $100 million gift to our endowment was unlike anything he had ever done before both in size and purpose. The gift was precisely what we needed to fulfill our mission, and everyone knew it. The pride and gratitude were evident in that now-famous bedsheet hung on the Class of 1942 gates, and in the thunderous student welcome when Mr. Annenberg appeared in chapel the following September. This was the best gift he could have given us, and it was very much a forward-looking gift.
“In the twenty-five years since that brilliant June morning, the endowment has generated extraordinary income for financial aid, faculty support, program development and campus upkeep. Hundreds of students who would not otherwise have been able to come to Peddie have made a substantial positive difference in our school. Faculty and staff salaries are more competitive. Program innovation is better supported. Even the grass is greener! Most importantly, Peddie is a school for the future: a student body united by excitement, curiosity and character; an excellent teaching faculty distinguished by dedication, humor and patience; an innovative program focused on personal growth and intellectual discovery. We ‘begin anew’ each day.
“As remarkable as June 1993 was, this summer I celebrate the focus Peddie has maintained on its mission-driven evolution from 1993 to 2018. The entire community has resisted the inclination to be something Peddie had never been — instead dreaming and working together to fulfill our mission in ways that we have never been able to before. To maintain that, a new generation of philanthropists, born of that historic gift, must meet the challenge.
"When the news broke, we scrambled for copies of Sunday newspapers at Krauszer's."
Anne Seltzer was appointed director of development in 1992. She previously served as acting head of school for one year after the sudden death of Headmaster Potter in 1998. It was during Seltzer’s tenure as development director that Peddie received the largest gift in the school’s history.
“Head of School Tom DeGray and I knew there was a gift coming from Ambassador Annenberg, but we had NO idea what size it would be. Several months earlier in November Walter said, ‘So if I were to give Peddie a significant gift, what would you think?’ Tom and I pledged to each other that until we knew for sure, no one else would know.
“It created a bit of a strange situation. Tom would be in budget meetings worrying about the cost of pencils, yet we knew there was a big gift in the offing. But it was still tentative so we certainly couldn’t count on anything.
“Tom charged me with getting background information on schools that had received transforming gifts. I remember distinctly that a college in Minnesota said, ‘you know, 25 years later it hasn’t made that much difference.’ That caused Tom and me to think differently about Walter’s proposal, and we decided to ask the Ambassador to restrict the gift for financial aid. It seemed to us that promising broader access to a Peddie education through financial assistance would fit the mission of the school and, in the long run, would be transformative. It was the smartest thing we ever did.
“By spring we brought Board Chair Finn Caspersen and Business Manager Charlie Galbraith in on the planning. We knew by then that if there were going to be a big announcement from Ambassador Annenberg, it would likely be on Father’s Day. Finn Caspersen sent the development office a new fax machine because he figured that we would be getting so many faxes due to the publicity.
“Of the four schools that received a gift from Ambassador Annenberg that day, Peddie by far received the most publicity. Communications Director Susan James kept saying, ‘We are the ones that have the emotional story because we knew Ambassador Annenberg when he was a kid.’ We had all those stories and pictures from when he was young. We knew that if we could get all that information ready to go at the drop of the announcement that we would reap the benefits for years to come. The minute the story broke reporters were swarming the campus. We had everything ready to go.
“Walter was the guest at a luncheon with the first students who received Annenberg scholarships, students who quite simply could not have attended Peddie without him. One senior got up to talk and started to cry. And Walter just went over and put his arm around her, and said, ‘I want to hear your story, and we’ll do it in five or ten minutes, but I want to hear your story.’
"Finn Caspersen sent the development office a new fax machine because he figured that we would be getting so many faxes due to the publicity."
Former Peddie roomates remember the man behind the fortune
In 1992, Jeff Larsen ’93 and his roommate, Joseph DiSalle ’93, wrote a letter thanking Walter Annenberg for his years of generosity to Peddie. Annenberg responded with a note:
“There is no doubt in my mind that from the ideals I heard you express, you will someday have a leadership position in the country … there is no doubt your parents are proud of your start and will be increasingly so as the years move on.”
A year later, Larsen and DiSalle had the opportunity to meet Annenberg when he visited campus for the library dedication in his honor.
Today, Larsen is a managing partner for Larsen MacColl Partners in Wayne, Pa. and a member of the Peddie Board of Trustees. “I was lucky enough to get selected to sit next to him at lunch,” he said in a 2002 interview with The Peddie News. “I had a marvelous time getting to know him. Annenberg was very down to earth, and very interested in what the students were up to. He truly cared about the school and, most importantly, the students.”
A photograph of Larsen and Annenberg [above] at the luncheon hangs in the corridor of the Annenberg Library.
“I remember he gave me a very firm handshake,” recalled DiSalle, commercial marketing representative for OmniSource Corporation in Toledo, Ohio. “His wife, Leonore, said how much Walter loved Peddie.”
DiSalle also remembered running into Annenberg on campus one day while he was playing Frisbee. “Not kidding, he literally just showed up to campus driven by his chauffeur in a green Cadillac. Ambassador Annenberg was walking on the sidewalk right in front of Coleman when our Frisbee landed on the sidewalk and slid right into his foot. He turned around and said, ‘I thought it was a gift out of the sky.’ We were so scared that he would negatively react. Just proves he was a down to earth person who didn’t get upset about something small.”