The F.M. Kirby Foundation has been quietly beautifying campus for more than a dozen years. Their latest grant will transform the area behind the EC.
When it comes to his approach to supporting Drew, S. Dillard Kirby, president and director of the foundation that carries his family’s name, says his attitude reflects his father’s directive 14 years ago to focus on “lower profile” areas of the campus.
“It is an attitude of ‘Let’s direct our philanthropy where others are not,’ ” says Kirby.
That humble, yet ambitious sentiment has led to more than $1.2 million worth of projects that have transformed portions of campus that needed, as Kirby says, “a bit of a facelift.” Projects like the Kirby Gate at the Glenwild Road entrance to campus, the library’s Thomas H. Kean Reading Room and Gallery, and myriad campus roads and walkways, including the Ceremonial Path that connects Mead Hall and the Ehinger Center.
Add to that the most recent $220,000 grant, bestowed last fall, which will transform the parking lot behind the Ehinger Center. Repaving will eliminate unsightly patches and cracks, and reconfiguring the traffic pattern will add more parking spaces and lead to better vehicular and pedestrian safety.
“When we have this beautiful new building, the last thing we want is for visitors to see an ugly, unwieldy lot first,” says Linda DeTitta, associate director, foundation and governmental relations.
The beautification and improvement projects funded by the F.M Kirby Foundation have made a huge impact on recruitment and retention, says Mike Kopas, assistant vice president, administration and university relations. Kopas has been tasked over the years with ferreting out projects that need to be addressed and also fit with the Kirby family’s goals.
“There are projects I can tell you that would never have been done if not for the Kirby Foundation,” Kopas says, for example, noting how a 2013 grant transformed the neglected area between the Welch and Holloway Halls into an inviting and welcoming place for students to gather with landscaping and furniture.
“It was functional before, it wasn’t in immediate danger of failure in any way,” he says. “But now, you see this is a space that really goes a long way with student engagement. It does big things for the feel of the campus.”
Other projects allowed the university to beautify areas and, at the same time, deal with crucial infrastructure issues like storm water management and pedestrian walkway deterioration, Kopas says.
The Kirby family’s dedication to Drew is deep and broad. Between Kirby and his mother, Walker Dillard Kirby, the two served for nearly 30 years on the board for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, whose home on Drew’s campus, the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, is a monument to their generosity.
Kirby said his late father, F.M. Kirby II, was a big fan of swimming as a collegiate sport. “He was pleased that the natatorium at Drew provided an observation deck,” Kirby says of the NCAA competitive pool that also bears the family name. The late philanthropist received an honorary degree from Drew in 1997.
Walker Kirby also served on the university’s Board of Trustees in the 1970s, and Kirby’s sister, Alice Kirby Horton, also a Kirby Foundation director, graduated magna cum laude from Drew in 1972.
For their part, Kirby says the foundation relishes working with Drew because the university “has been a great steward of each grant award over the years.”
“This has, in turn, reinforced our commitment toward the next project,” Kirby says. “We like it that the university prioritizes their needs and thereby gives us greater assurance that all efforts will be placed on quality and process of any given project.”
What is most remarkable is how all these projects add up, says Drew President, Dr. MaryAnn Baenninger.
“Taken individually, each project might seem small,” Baenninger says. “But together they have transformed parts of the campus that were previously neglected. The F.M. Kirby Foundation’s generosity and foresight has helped fill the campus with the inviting spaces that our students, families, and faculty want and deserve.”—Jennifer V. Hughes