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Deborah Simon giving $100M to Pennsylvania prep school

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Deborah Simon, daughter of Simon Property Group co-founder Mel Simon, is giving $100 million to a college prep academy in southern Pennsylvania, one of the largest donations ever made to an independent school in the United States.

Mercersburg Academy announced the contribution from alumna Deborah Simon, who graduated from the private boarding school in 1974. She now serves on its board of regents.

"To me, the school was a lifesaver," Simon said. "It was like a home away from home."

The funds will be used to boost financial aid, support faculty development, and enhance facilities and programs, said Douglas Hale, the top administrator at Mercersburg. He expressed profound appreciation for the gift, which comes during an ambitious $300 million fundraising campaign.

"It affirms that what we're doing is important work and worthwhile work, and it really transforms young people's lives," Hale said.

One goal is to make the school need-blind, meaning applicants' ability to pay would not be considered in the admissions process, he said. Nearly half the student body receives some type of financial aid to attend Mercersburg, which costs almost $51,000 a year.

Simon said she arrived at the school during a difficult time in her young life and found it to be "one of the most magical places I've ever been." She later joined Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, and then worked in the entertainment industry for years. She currently runs the Simon Youth Foundation, an Indianapolis-based organization for at-risk teens.

Her donation comes in three parts: a $50 million contribution, $25 million in matching funds, and a $25 million estate commitment.

Announcement of the gift comes months after Simon family members settled a three-year legal battle over how to distribute Mel's $3 billion fortune. Deborah, her sister Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and her brother David Simon were fighting to invalidate changes to Mel's will that increased the share going to their stepmother, Bren Simon. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Mercersburg Academy serves nearly 450 students in grades nine through 12. Notable alumni include Oscar winners Jimmy Stewart and Benicio del Toro, as well as cable TV mogul H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, who gave the school $35 million in 2000.

Its campus sits about 150 miles west of Philadelphia, near the Maryland state line.

The gift comes six years after the private George School in Newtown, a Philadelphia suburb, received $128.5 million, believed to be the largest gift ever to a U.S. secondary school. It came from alumna Barbara Dodd Anderson, whose father had been a business partner of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

In 1993, publisher Walter Annenberg gave $100 million to the Peddie School, a prep academy he attended in Hightstown, N.J.

Hale said that while places like universities and museums are frequently targeted for philanthropy, Simon's donation should remind would-be benefactors of smaller but equally worthy recipients. All told, Simon has given more than $111 million to Mercersburg.

"I hope it will help people to step back and realize those places in their lives that have been formative for them," Hale said. "Those places need support."
 

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  • Really?
    I attended Mercersburg my senior year on a full scholarship in the 1990's. Both my parents are public school teachers. Our public school was good but it was not going to get me where I wanted to go. The opportunity to attend changed my life in so many ways that public school never could. I thank Ms. Simon for giving that opportunity to even more "rich" kids like myself. Stereotypes are what ruins this country!
  • Not Joyce
    That long response was not Joyce, it was Bill
  • Wow Pete, get over it
    It's ok Pete, not everyone is as perfect as you, not every has disdain for those "elitist" people who have money, cause that is definitely all they are.
    • Trust Fund Baby
      @Joyce, I give money to charities becasue I can and it is the right thing to do. I do not expect anything in return and I do not need for the people I give the money to to know my name or why I gave the money. Deb Simon had to give her blessing to allow the information to be publicized. If she wants people to think she is a good person she should have given the money to build/run a homeless shelter or some such thing. I think the elitist prep school in PA would havce been just fine without her $
      • You can comment on it,
        Read the article...... "Nearly half the students receive financial aid to attend".....one goal is to make the ability to pay the tuition a moot point.... But somehow you deem this to be throwing their wealth in your face? You deem this to be rich people sending their kids away when half receive financial assistance? Come on. I am guessing you were also screaming "greed" in the comment section when they were battling the legality of the inheritance in court? Yup, pretty greedy, wanting that money to give $100 million to a school who produces some amazing individuals at little to no cost for half of them while wanting to make the cost of their tuition no longer a barrier for the less fortunate. So sorry the IBJ threw that in your face, and so sorry Deborah didn't want to hide her generosity from you. If I gave away a ridiculously large amount of money, I would certainly want the recipient to know me.
      • Anonymous
        @Joyce, you are correct. I don't care how she spends her money until it is thrown in my face. Then it becomes something I can comment on. Why didn't she give the gift anonymously? Think about that one for a minute.
        • It's Her Money
          I don't want anyone telling me how to spend my fortune. What business is it of ours how Ms. Simon spends hers?
          • Poor Simons
            Since they are loosing so much money on the Pacers I'm glad they're able to scrape together a few pennies to help a struggling private prep school. Indiana tax papers need to help subsidize the Pacers more so they can continue to help their fellow well to do in other states.
          • Great Use of $$$
            Public schools are free (using tax payers money of course) are are probably much more in need of this type of donation. Not sure why this donation irritates me exactly, but it does. Rich families sending off thier children so they don't have to deal with them during the difficult high school years is what this sounds like to me.
          • One Word
            WOW!

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