Passing the Torch – Keeping the Passion Burning

Helen Johnson smilingBy Heather M. McKeever

Helen Johnson, a graduate of the class of 1952, left her mark as an elementary teacher for 35 years in Kenmore, Orchard Park and Hamburg, N.Y. Helen retired as an elementary educator in 1985, but she continued to teach others throughout her life. Helen served in many capacities such as co-president of the PTA and president of the Hamburg Teachers Association. She received the Friend of Education Award and the New York State PTA Distinguished Service Award, both for post-retirement volunteer service.

Over the past several years, my professional relationship with Helen quickly grew into a friendship. I admired Helen as an amazing and kind person. As a development officer for the Fredonia College Foundation, I visit alumni and work toward building relationships that keep them well-informed and engaged with our campus and community. I remember my very first visit with Helen. She had just become a member of the College of Education Committee of Friends Society by committing to a $200 annual donation. Helen received me in her home with a warm welcome. We weren't too far into our conversation when Helen eloquently recalled her entry to Fredonia as a freshman student. She expressed gratitude for being chosen as the recipient of the Florence Eckhart Scholarship. The award was established in honor of Ms. Eckhart who worked as the director of elementary education at Hamburg School. Helen said she never forgot what the scholarship meant to her and her family. She felt it was time to reciprocate that same gesture of good will ando impact future students who also share a passion for teaching.

A Family of Educators

Helen Johnson smilingAs I was sharing new developments with Helen, in walked her twin brother, Harold Johnson. Harold, nicknamed "Prof" in his class yearbooks, earned the distinction with a doctorate in political science from the University of Michigan. Harold worked as a college professor for 22 years, having achieved appointments at Canisius College and Michigan State University. In June 2009, Harold received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Hamburg Board of Education, which publicly recognized his career and volunteer involvement as a champion for educational excellence, service as a budget ambassador, a mentor, and supporter and friend to the school community. Harold continues to serve the community as a member of the Hamburg High School Finance Academy Advisory Board.

Harold also values education and the need to help others succeed. He established a scholarship at his own alma mater in 2006. Carrying on the role of a former professor, Harold continues as a mentor for his scholarship recipients throughout their four years at school. He anticipates that each scholarship recipient will have a successful career as they continue to contribute to his legacy. "I would like to think that each student who receives support from my scholarship will maintain a professional commitment, and this commitment, in turn, is the true legacy," stated Harold.

Following a Brother's Example
Helen had always been inspired by the engagement Harold had with his scholarship recipients. As I continued to visit with Helen over the years, our conversations led to the development of a similar scholarship model that Helen envisioned for the benefit of Fredonia students. Helen's passion has always been aligned to support public education and to help students who take part in the Hamburg-Fredonia student teaching program. As a result of her vision to encourage students to become public educators, the Helen L. Johnson Legacy Scholarship fund has supported five student scholarships. Helen has met four of her scholarship recipients, giving meaningful life to the legacy that will continue to follow. Both twins expressed, "We are grateful for the leadership given by the Fredonia College Foundation in developing a process where our gift has received thoughtful stewardship and financial security."

As I began writing this feature story Helen's health took a turn for the worse and she was put under hospice care. Helen passed away on April 21, 2015. What is incredible is that Helen knew this story was being written and that it would serve as a source of inspiration to others. During my last conversation with Helen, I asked how she would like to summarize the reason why she established an endowment at Fredonia. Why was it important that she leave a legacy gift?

Helen's answer was simple. "This is what it's all about: People caring and helping other people. This gives someone like me an opportunity to be part of something bigger - to be part of these students' lives, to celebrate their success. It is an honor to help grow the College of Education program as it brings me full circle to my own life as a student. This isn't my last chapter because with the scholarship I hand off my torch with new chapters being written by each recipient."

To learn how you follow Helen and Harold Johnson's example and leave a legacy of support for future Fredonia students, contact the Fredonia College Foundation at (716) 673-3321 or to discuss your options.

A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to the Fredonia College Foundation a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

"I give to the Fredonia College Foundation, a nonprofit corporation currently located at Fredonia, NY, or its successor thereto, ______________ [written amount or percentage of the estate or description of property] for its unrestricted use and purpose."

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to Fredonia or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.

Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.

Securities, real estate or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.

Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property or undeveloped land.

A charitable remainder trust provides you or other named individuals income each year for life or a period not exceeding 20 years from assets you give to the trust you create.

You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the potential tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to Fredonia as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to Fredonia as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and Fredonia where you agree to make a gift to Fredonia and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

Personal Estate Planning Kit Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the materials for planning your estate.

First name is required
Last Name is required
Please include an '@' in the email address

eBrochure Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the brochure.

First name is required
Last Name is required
Please include an '@' in the email address