Danielle Minson — How You Help
Jim’s April Tip: A Hidden Philanthropist Among Us
A Giving Strategies post by Jim Friedman
What I remember best? He met us for lunch but brought his own lunch in a paper bag—he didn’t want to make the Federation pay.
Dr Robert Lemlich, z”l, was a teacher, a distinguished professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati for 33 years. He was a member of Etz Chaim Congregation and a lifetime member of Mensa. Drafted into the Navy at 18 in 1944, he served during World War II and until 1946. His wife, who preceded him in death, was called Elizabeth Ann; they lived in Ludlow, Kentucky.
But I didn’t know any of that then. Here’s what happened:
I received a phone call sometime in 2004, and the gentleman said, “You don’t know who I am, but I’d like to come out and meet with you. And if things go well I will have some money for you.”
So I set up a meeting with him for lunchtime. I asked Shep Englander, our CEO, to join us.
I also looked him up—he had given annually to the Jewish Federation for as long as we had records, never more than $200 a year. So I didn’t know what to expect from this meeting.
A very small, slight individual, Dr. Lemlich came in about a week later. He looked a bit rumpled, much like what you would expect from a science professor. When we offered him lunch and something to drink he said, “No no, I brought my own lunch.” And out came an old paper sack and some sort of beverage. He didn’t want the Federation to pay.
Dr. Lemlich said he cared for the future of the Jewish people and he would like to give us a check for $25,000 if we would put it to the use he wanted, which was “the physical preservation of the Jewish people.”
Shep and I said of course—but we didn’t know what that meant. We asked him and he said, “That’s for you to figure out.” He also said, “If I’m happy with what you do with this, then I’ll consider giving you additional money.” I remember when I walked him out to the parking lot afterwards I saw he had a very old, very well-travelled car.
So we created an endowment fund, anonymous because that was also Dr. Lemlich’s wish. We figured that the overall mission of the Jewish Federation involves the preservation of the Jewish people, and therefore we simply decided to take the endowment draw to use in our allocations process.
It was the only time I ever met him, since he specifically asked that we not communicate with him with any regularity. We sent him statements describing how we used the money for the community, and we respected his wishes.
Dr. Lemlich must have felt good about the encounter, because he built his endowment up to $100,000 over the next several years.
The only other communication I had with Dr. Lemlich was when Elizabeth Ann, his wife, passed away three or four years ago. The Federation made a contribution in her memory, and he wrote back a note through his niece (by this time he was no longer able to write), thanking us for the contribution.
Dr. Robert Lemlich died on May 16, 2016, at 89 years of age. His trust officer told us we were the beneficiaries of a significant percent of his will and trust and the Federation would get $1.9 million. It was a huge gift; Shep and I were astonished.
The takeaway for me is to make sure you treat everyone with proper respect and dignity, and enable them to trust you. As Dr. Lemlich had requested, we kept him updated, but left him alone. We were the trustworthy partner.
In the end, Dr. Lemlich chose us, without us choosing him. And as a result we—the whole Cincinnati Jewish community—is benefiting. His endowment starting this year will contribute approximately $50,000 per year to our annual campaign.
What a gift, and what a lasting legacy for this hidden philanthropist.
You can reach Jim Friedman, Director, Planned Giving and Endowments, at 513-985-1524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can reach the Federation’s Create Your Jewish Legacy team here and the Create Your Jewish Legacy website here.
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