The recent bequest of $13.5 million—the largest ever posthumous gift to the College—from the estate of Bion Cram, a member of the Class of 1937, is sure to have a significant impact on Bowdoin's ability to maintain its financial aid program and need-blind admission practices.
Cram, a retired stockbroker who split his time between Maine and Florida, died in December 2008, and the money he left to Bowdoin began coming in last year, according to Senior Vice President for Planning & Development Bill Torrey. The College also received a bequest of $3.8 million from Cram's partner, John McCoy, who did not attend Bowdoin and died less than two weeks before Cram.
The combined gifts total more than $17.3 million. Cram's estate set aside $2 million to create a new chair in the economics department that bears his name. The remaining $11.5 million, along with the money left by McCoy, is directed to a financial aid endowment.
Cram, who was supported by financial aid when he attended Bowdoin, was one of the first of his classmates to get a job after graduating, according to the College's press release.
"He lived very modestly and very quietly and made a lot of money for a long time, and when he died in his nineties he left it all to financial aid, which is pretty extraordinary," said Torrey.
Bowdoin was notified of the bequest over a year ago, but did not report it until last week. Torrey said that the College had delayed the disclosure because of an agreement with Cram's high school alma mater, Fryeburg Academy, which received $15 million from Cram's estate. According to Torrey, "Fryeburg wanted to do a public announcement on the same day" as Bowdoin.
The College receives over 90 percent of its funding from donations. Although Bowdoin has had larger gifts from individual donors during their lifetimes, Cram's gift "definitely has had an impact on our ability to try to keep up with the increasing demand for financial aid," said Torrey.
In the last five years, Bowdoin has raised around $100 million, including Cram's gift, for financial aid funds.
"When you look at the size of this gift, that's a pretty significant portion of our financial aid money," said Torrey.
Once the College has acquired the entire bequest—the estate has yet to be fully settled—it will generate approximately $750,000 each year. According to Torrey, that interest revenue will benefit "a minimum of 30 students a year, probably more."
During his life, Cram gave modestly to the College. However, Cram had told the Office of Planning and Development that he was putting his energy into building an estate gift.
"We had known that we were going to receive a bequest, [but] we weren't aware that it was going to be quite as large as it eventually turned out to be," said Torrey.
Cram's gift is also notable for the publicity it has garnered, as the College rarely announces sizable bequests.
"To protect donors and their lives, we don't do it. It's not the Bowdoin way," said Torrey, "but we felt [this] was important to announce."