Cram donates $15 million to Fryeburg Academy

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Bion Cram’s life has come full circle.

As a young teen, Bion was visited one day in 1929 at his West Baldwin farm by Fryeburg Academy Headmaster Elroy LaCasce. Sitting at the kitchen table with his father, Bion was offered a chance to attend the Academy. To make it happen, LaCasce offered Bion a scholarship.

Headmaster Dan Lee expresses gratitude to Bion R. Cram and his partner, John McCoy, for their “transformational generosity” to Fryeburg Academy.

Bion took full advantage of his Academy opportunity. He was awarded the school’s highest academic honor, the Gibson Medal, in 1933 and earned a scholarship to attend Bowdoin College

Again, Bion parlayed a highly-successful collegiate career and a degree in finance into a golden opportunity. Through a Fryeburg Academy connection — Harvey Dow Gibson, a leading financier — Bion landed an entry position at a New York City bank. The door was open for Bion to embark on a lucrative career in investment banking.

Bion never forgot Fryeburg Academy. The retired stockbroker contributed in excess of $3.5 million to the school during his lifetime — helping to build a state-of-the-art library ($500,000), which carries his name, as well as funds to construct a new athletic fieldhouse, which honors his sister, Ada Cram Wadsworth, a former Academy teacher.

Last Friday, Bion left his final mark.

Fryeburg Academy received a restricted gift approaching $15 million from the estate of Bion R. Cram, Class of 1933, and his partner, John H. McCoy. The gift is thought to be the largest ever to a secondary school in Maine.

Bion passed away at the age of 93 on Dec. 21, 2008. His partner of 59 years, John McCoy, predeceased him by 19 days.

“My uncle was a very frugal man who believed that money was meant to have a purpose, and he felt that education was a very worthy purpose,” said Mary Lowatchie, Bion’s niece, who spoke at Friday’s “tribute” held at the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center. “He always said that it was his opportunity to attend Fryeburg that first gave him the tools to become a success in life.”

The “gift” is divided in three parts: An endowment fund restricted to the annual support of financial aid scholarships for worthy students to attend the Academy on a boarding or day basis; a second endowment fund restricted to the annual support of academic resources including the Bion R. Cram Library; and the smallest portion, which has already been designated to support a portion of the recent Phoenix Project construction (the Wadsworth Arena).

Only the income from investments will be used to “ensure that the Academy will never lose its edge in offering a high-quality educational experience to our students,” FA Headmaster Daniel G. Lee Jr. said.

The “gift” triples the Academy’s endowment’s previous mark. Lee did add, however, that the gift does not negate the need for continued annual campaign drives.

“As part of the Academy’s ongoing effort to build its endowment, the Cram/McCoy bequest gives us nothing short of an extraordinary, transformational boost,” Lee said. “It doesn’t make us a wealthy school. It doesn’t diminish the need for all of us to contribute what we can.  Education, when done well, is a costly enterprise.”

Where does this gift fit in the history of philanthropy at Fryeburg Academy? Lee said the endowment is the largest gift in 218 years of FA history. In 1994, the largest gift ever was $100,000. In 2002, the largest gift ever was $500,000. When the school launched the Phoenix Project, to replace the old gym, which was destroyed by fire, FA received five seven-figure gifts.

To illustrate the impact the gift will have on the Academy, Lee pointed out that Facebook creator Marc Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark school system, which equals about $2,500 per student. Bion’s donation of $15 million to Fryeburg Academy equals $25,000 per student.

“From scholarship recipient to scholarship donor, the circle of life, and generosity, is now complete,” Lee said. “Bion fully recognized that his life was enriched by the opportunities he found here and his gift helps ensure that future generations of students will enjoy the same opportunities.  In today’s world, we call that ‘giving back’ or ‘paying it forward.’ In Bion’s world, it was simply doing the right thing. As Bion has taught us, a gift to this school is an investment in opportunity.”

Tim Scott, director of development at Fryeburg Academy, added, “In life, he (Bion) played a significant role in enhancing our historic campus and its educational capabilities. Bion’s bequest ensures that the high quality Fryeburg Academy experience can be made available to the broadest spectrum of students in perpetuity.”

After hearing some lovely selections performed by soloist Louise Alfano, Class of 2009, and FA faculty member and pianist Roberta Muse, Headmaster Lee said, “In so many ways, this has been an unconventional memorial service. I’m tempted to close on an unconventional note. Please rise, rattle the rafters, and express our gratitude with applause for these good men.”

Loud applause lasted several minutes.

Bion’s gift will last for years and years to come.

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