This Doesn’t Happen Every Day

August 25, 2010

Warren and members of the American Section
Warren and his friends in the American Section

A few months ago, I received my favorite kind of phone call.  It was from a nice man named Warren Kamensky.  He simply and matter-of-factly said, “I was a volunteer at the Museum for many years, and I want to make a gift to the Museum.”  In the world of Development, this kind of thing rarely happens, so you can imagine my glee.

He mentioned wanting to make a six-figure planned gift, or bequest through his will, to the American Section of the Museum, where he had spent years as a volunteer.  My lovely colleagues in the American Section were quick to respond to my email about Warren and inquire about visiting him with me.  Thank goodness for helpful coworkers!  Lucy Fowler Williams, Stacey Espenlaub, and I went to his home in Medford, NJ a few weeks later.

Warren is a humble and sweet man.  It seemed like he and his American Section friends picked up right where they left off, and we had a nice visit talking about the Museum and our families, especially his beloved wife, Euseba, who had just passed away in February.  You could tell that theirs was a fabulous love story.

The next time I visited Warren, I brought my colleague from the University’s Office of Gift Planning to help us figure out the questions Warren had about making a planned gift.

Then another thing that NEVER happens in Development occurred–Warren stopped the conversation about a planned gift and said, “Can I just give you $500,000 right now?”  After I picked myself off of the floor, I asked Warren to repeat that so I could record it and play it over and over again when I have a bad day.

Warren’s gift is significant for many reasons.  First of all, it is an endowed gift, which means that it is invested in the University and will continue to support the Museum in perpetuity.  Secondly, it is designated to support the position of NAGPRA (Native American Graves and Protection and Repatriation Act) Coordinator in the American Section, the position currently held by Stacey Espenlaub.   Stacey’s new title is the Euseba and Warren Kamensky NAGPRA Coordinator of the American Section.  The NAGPRA Coordinator position continues to be increasingly important to our mission as a museum, not only in the care of our collection, but also in developing and maintaining relationships with the tribes and native communities of North America.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Warren’s gift shows us all how loyal and generous our volunteers and donors truly are.   Warren began volunteering at the Museum in the 1980s after retiring from his career as a chemical engineer.  In addition, he has been a member of the Museum for over 20 years.

For those of us who work here, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  However, to people like Warren, and there are many Warrens out there, the Penn Museum is a privilege, a gift, and they will give tons of money and decades of their lives to further our mission.

I know I won’t get a call like the one from Warren every day, but I’m glad I did to remind me that every person here believes in the Penn Museum and is working with me to make it better every day.