The 60 largest American charitable contributions of the year.

Analysis of the year's biggest philanthropists.
Feb. 15 2007 11:27 PM

The 2006 Slate 60: Pledges

The 60 largest American charitable contributions of the year.

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John and Jacque Weberg—$50 million toOpportunity International. John Weberg, 78, and his wife, Jacque, 75, retired owners of retail furniture stores, pledged $50 million—of which $3 million has been paid—to Opportunity International, in Oak Brook, Ill. The money, which will be paid out over 10 years, will be used for projects in the Philippines and in Africa that give small loans to entrepreneurs. Officials at the organization said the Webergs have said they intend to focus most of their support on such programs in African countries because of what they see as a vicious cycle of poverty, exacerbated by the AIDS epidemic. A program in Malawi will use the money to establish a bank that will provide small-business loans to poor people, and to purchase special fingerprint-recognition equipment that will make it easier for the borrowers to access their bank accounts. In a country where poor people do not have an address or the sort of documentation needed to open bank accounts, the fingerprinting system enables a borrower to use his or her fingerprint as a form of identification and makes it possible to get a loan, open a bank account, and get insurance. The couple have been donors to Opportunity International for about 20 years and have helped pay for microfinance projects in Honduras and India.

Gilbert D. and Jaylee M. Mead—$37.2 million to Arena Stage and the Signature Theatre. Gilbert Mead, 76, a retired research scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., and heir to the Consolidated Papers fortune, and Jaylee Mead, 77 and retired as associate chief of the Space Data and Computing Division at Goddard, pledged $35 million—of which $31 million in has been paid—to Arena Stage, in Washington. Most of the money—$30 million—will be used to upgrade and refurbish the theater company's performance spaces, offices, and shops, and to build a theater campus with classrooms and rehearsal space. The remaining $5 million will be used to match any gift from an Arena trustee. The Meads serve on Arena's Board of Trustees and gave the theater an additional $175,000 last year to sponsor a production of Cabaret. The couple also pledged $1 million—of which $700,000 has been paid—to Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. The Meads gave the money for the institution's capital campaign, which paid for the construction of a new theater. The Meads gave Signature an additional $75,000 to sponsor a production of Into the Woods as the show that was the first to be produced in the new facility. In addition, the Meads gave $949,922 to the Community Foundation of South Wood County, in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., where Gilberg Mead was born and raised, and where his grandfather co-founded Consolidated Papers. The couple earmarked $600,000 of the gift for the Wisconsin Rapids Community Theater Fund to help build a new theater. The remaining $349,922, said the Meads, would go to the Barker Mead Fund, which Mr. Mead and his cousin, Ruth Barker, established in 2004 to support civic programs in Wisconsin Rapids.

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Marvin J. and Judith A. Herb Family—$35.3 million to theRush University Medical Center and the University of Toledo College of Education. Marvin Herb, 68, chairman of Herbco, a private investment company in Barrington, Ill., and a former owner of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Chicago; his wife, Judith, 66; and their sons, Jon and Tom, and Tom's wife, Wendy, pledged $20 million to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Most of the money will be used for new construction projects, and some will endow scholarships for medical students studying primary-care medicine at Rush Medical College, but university officials would not say exactly how much money would be directed toward each of those efforts. The three younger Herbs together pledged to contribute $5 million toward their parents' pledge. The elder couple have been patients at the medical center. The family also pledged $15 million, of which $264,600 has been paid, to the University of Toledo College of Education. Most of the money—$8 million—will be used for scholarships, while $4.25 million will support research programs within the college. The remaining $2.75 million will be used for faculty-development programs. Marvin and Judith Herb also gave $250,000 to the university for its annual fund. Judith Herb earned a bachelor's degree in 1961 and a master's degree in 1964 at the university's College of Education, and Marvin Herb earned a master's in business administration at its College of Business in 1964. Tom Herb, chief executive of Barrington Venture Holding Company, an Illinois company that manages real estate, and his wife, Wendy, gave $500,000 to the college, as did Jon Herb, director of residential marketing at Aercon AAC, a Haines City, Fla., company that makes concrete for building commercial and residential structures.

Jeannik Méquet Littlefield—$35 million to the San Francisco Opera. Littlefield is the widow of Edmund Wattis Littlefield, a former chief executive officer of the Utah Construction Company, which merged with General Electric in 1976. Littlefield pledged $35 million to the San Francisco Opera, of which $2 million per year will go toward general operating costs, and $5 million per year will augment the endowment. The donation, a mix of stocks and cash, will be paid over five years. The endowment stands at $90 million, but the opera is raising money to substantially increase it. Littlefield's passion for opera stretches back to her childhood in Paris, where she begged her parents to take her to her first show, Carmen. According to the opera company, her husband did not share her love of the art until, through a gift from the Littlefields, the company installed supertitles—words projected on a screen that translate foreign-language operas into English—in its theater in 1984. A member of the opera's board of directors for 15 years, Littlefield has previously contributed millions of dollars to the company. The gift appears to be the largest ever given to an opera company in the United States.

Burt and Deedee McMurtry—$32 million to Rice University. Burt McMurtry, 71, founder of Technology Venture Investors and Institutional Venture Associates, in Menlo Park, Calif., and his wife, Deedee, 72, pledged $32 million to Rice University, $4.2 million of which will support Rice's residential college system and $1 million of which will be used to construct facilities for a new residential college. The remainder is unrestricted. Both McMurtrys grew up in Houston and graduated from Rice—she with a bachelor of arts in English in 1956, he with both a bachelor of arts in 1956 and a bachelor of science in electrical engineering in 1957. As a Rice student in 1955, Burt McMurtry helped plan the university's undergraduate residential-college system, in which students live in one of nine smaller university units, each with its own dormitory and dining hall. The McMurtry gift will help establish one of two new residential colleges at Rice, which plans to expand its student population by 30 percent. The new college will be named for the couple. The $4.2 million portion of the donation will be paid by 2010. Rice will receive the remainder as a bequest.

Sheldon G. and Miriam Adelson—$30 million to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority and Birthright Israel. Sheldon Adelson, 73, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and his wife, Miriam, 61, a physician who specializes in drug abuse and addiction treatment, pledged $25 million to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. The institution is a complex of archives, exhibits, monuments, museums, and sculptures dedicated to commemorating and documenting the history of Jewish people during the Holocaust. The money will be used for educational programs internationally and in Israel. The Adelsons established a foundation in January and have said the foundation will give out $200 million a year to Jewish causes. Forbes magazine named Adelson the third-richest man in the country last year. The couple also pledged approximately $5 million to Birthright Israel, a New York organization that gives young Jewish American adults free 10-day trips to Israel if they have never visited the country. The trips cost approximately $2,400 per person, and the Adelsons' donation will help pay for trips for people whom the organization could not previously afford to send.

Monte and Usha Ahuja—$30 million to University Hospitals in Cleveland. Monte Ahuja, 60, founder of Transtar Industries, a multinational distributor of automobile parts in Cleveland, and his wife, Usha, also 60, pledged $30 million to University Hospitals in Cleveland in support of its $1.2 billion capital campaign. In return for the gift, which is unrestricted, the hospital system will name a new 200-bed facility after the couple. A native of India, Monte Ahuja transformed a small car-parts distribution center in Ohio into Transtar, an international firm that specializes in transmission systems for repair jobs. Usha Ahuja, a former professor of mathematics at Cleveland State University, has served as her husband's business partner since the beginning. Both Ahujas have served on boards at University Hospitals. The hospital system declined to give further details about the gift.

William E. Macaulay—$30 million to City University of New York. Macaulay, chief executive of the First Reserve Corporation, a private-equity firm in Greenwich, Conn., pledged $30 million to the City University of New York to buy the Steinhardt Building, a five-story Gothic revival-style townhouse in New York's Upper West Side neighborhood that will house the Honors College, and for the endowment. Macaulay graduated from the university in 1966.

Jay A. Precourt—$30 million to Stanford University. Precourt, chairman of Hermes Consolidated in Denver, a transporter and processor of crude oil and related products, pledged $30 million to Stanford University to establish an institute for energy efficiency, endow faculty positions in energy sciences, and help construct a building for the university's energy and environment program. No details were available about the donor's schedule for paying the pledge. The institute will focus on improving the efficiency of electricity distribution, building heating and cooling, and transportation. In doing so, it will work closely with existing departments at Stanford, the university said. Precourt earned both a bachelor's degree, in 1959, and a master's degree, in 1960, in petroleum engineering from Stanford. His donation was the second of two $30 million gifts to Stanford in 2006 to support environmental studies (see Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods).

Ward W. and Priscilla Woods—$30 million to Stanford University. Ward Woods, former president of Bessemer Securities, a venture-capital firm in New York, and his wife, Priscilla, pledged $30 million to Stanford University for an environmental institute. The institute, to be renamed in honor of the couple, supports research on science policy and economic sustainability. The university declined to give further details on the donation, one of two $30 million gifts in 2006 to promote environmental studies at Stanford (see Jay A. Precourt). Ward Woods, a member of Stanford's board of trustees, graduated from the university in 1964 with a bachelor's degree. His contributions to Stanford now top $40 million.