A third-generation engineer and forester, Henry Saunders can spot ways to reinforce a structure. With his philanthropy, he is bolstering his alma mater, the University of Maine in Orono, as well as Maine Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital.
“I wanted to do something good in their memory, something they’d be proud of.”
Henry’s gifts are a tribute to his late wife and son. “I wanted to do something good in their memory, something they’d be proud of,” he said of the medical research endowment, scholarship for rural doctors and nurses, and the professorships he has established at these institutions. “What can you do that has more value?”
Henry was born in 1928 and raised in Westbrook, Maine, not far from the mill and woodworking business his grandfather and great uncle founded at the turn of the last century. As a young employee, Henry flew a Piper J-3 Cub airplane over vast acres of sustainable northern New England forest land surveying white and yellow birch. For a time, wooden dowels purchased from Saunders Brothers were used to make the iconic Tinkertoy construction sets for kids.
When he retired in 1986, Henry started building his dream house on an old campsite along the shores of Lake Sebago. While working on the adjacent tennis courts, he felt pain in his back.
Henry said he would have gone “anywhere in the world” to see a top specialist. His neighbor, a pediatrician, referred Henry to Mass General, where he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal. Neurosurgeon Lawrence Borges, MD, operated and today Henry remains pain-free.
Early Giving Becomes Focused Plan
But in conversation with Dr. Borges, Henry learned Medicare reimbursement covers only part of the hospital’s true costs. So he wrote a check, his first gift to Mass General. Over time, Henry’s giving became more sophisticated and, upon the advice of his lawyer, he developed a plan that focused his philanthropy on the University of Maine, the Maine Medical Center and Mass General.
Meanwhile, Henry’s investment portfolio had appreciated exponentially thanks, in part, to one stock then trading at 60 times earnings. “My father’s old rule for investing was to be cautious with stock trading at more than 10 times earnings, which was a good sound rule,” Henry says. “So I gave some of it away.”
By donating stock he had purchased for only $4 a share many years before, Henry also avoided the capital gains taxes he would have incurred had he sold it.
Grief and Philanthropy
For Henry, 2014 was a devastating year. In January, his son, Kenneth, died suddenly of viral pneumonia. In October, his wife, Marjorie, succumbed to complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Amidst his grief, Henry responded by accelerating his philanthropy to memorialize both.
He donated more stock to set up programs he deemed pivotal at his preferred organizations.
He donated more stock to set up programs he deemed pivotal at his preferred organizations. Often, Henry’s giving was structured to first pay him a stream of income. Payments from these gift annuities were welcome supplements to his retirement and Social Security income.
At Mass General, Henry’s gift annuities will grow the Henry W. and Marjorie H. Saunders Endowed Fund, providing flexible support for medical research. The couple’s relationship with the hospital had deepened as Marjorie’s Alzheimer’s disease progressed. Henry remains grateful for the Mass General care provided by John Stakes, MD, as well as Merit Cudkowicz, MD, and Anne Young, MD, PhD, the Department of Neurology’s current and former chiefs, respectively.
A Family’s Legacy
With Maine Medical Center, Henry and his daughter, Leslie, founded a scholarship in Marjorie’s name to train nurses and doctors for rural practice. It addresses an acute need in Maine and befits Marjorie, a nurse by profession, who served two years in Italy at the end of World War II with the U.S. Army Nurse Corp.
“There is a need out there,” Henry says of his designations.
At University of Maine, Henry and Leslie established the Kenneth W. Saunders and Henry W. Saunders Professorship of Engineering Leadership and Management. “I wanted to do something in Kenneth’s memory,” Henry says of his son, a brilliant engineer who developed aircraft collision avoidance systems with MIT and Lincoln Laboratory.
Henry’s charitable contributions strengthen programs that matter most to him. “There is a need out there,” Henry says of his designations. But equally important, his planned giving makes permanent the Saunders family legacy.