Lenfest Legacy

 

 

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H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest often says, “A life can be transformed by access to a job.”

 

Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest believe in the well-known saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Through gifts of over $1.3 billion to more than 1,100 organizations, they personally and their Lenfest Foundation have supported causes ranging from the arts to environmental programs to independent journalism. But their highest priority has always been to build self-sufficiency through education.

 

Gerry and Marguerite’s life experiences have influenced the fundamental principles that guide their philanthropy. Gerry believes the discipline and structure of Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, helped him navigate difficult times and provided him with the education and skills to be accepted at Washington and Lee University and Columbia Law School. He also credits his personal and professional growth to his service in the US Navy and his twenty-four years in the Navy Reserve.

 

Marguerite (née Brooks) also credits her independence and prosperity to education. She graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls and Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The Lenfests married in July 1955 and moved to New York City, where Gerry attended law school and Marguerite worked as an elementary school teacher on Long Island and in Manhattan.

 

After receiving his law degree, Gerry practiced at the New York firm of Davis Polk. In 1965, the couple moved to Philadelphia when Gerry accepted a position as associate counsel at Walter Annenberg’s Triangle Publications. After five years, Gerry became editorial director and publisher of Seventeen magazine and president of the company’s cable division. In 1974, Gerry purchased two cable companies from Walter Annenberg—Suburban and Lebanon Valley— with two partners, and launched Lenfest Communications.

 

By the end of the 1990s, the cable company had more than 1.2 million subscribers and had become the region’s largest cable operator. In January 2000, the Lenfest family sold Lenfest Communications to the Comcast Corporation.

 

In the same year, the Lenfests decided to devote their time and energy to philanthropy. Gerry and Marguerite agreed to dedicate the majority of their wealth to causes connected to their core values and to support institutions and issues they viewed as critical to the future of the region they love. The Lenfests’ three adult children also created charitable foundations and will continue the Lenfest giving legacy in the future.

 

The priority of education has guided the work of the Lenfest Foundation since its inception. One of its first significant initiatives was the Lenfest College Scholarship Program, which now awards twenty-four scholarships annually to high-performing students from rural areas of Pennsylvania. These students are attending most academically challenging colleges and universities in the United States and many are the first in their families to go to college. In 2014, the Lenfests created and endowed the Lenfest Scholars Foundation to ensure that this program will continue in perpetuity.   

 

In 2011, the Lenfest Foundation Board of Directors revised its mission to focus on disadvantaged youth in the Philadelphia area. Through a multiyear planning process, the foundation determined that it could have the greatest impact in workforce development and career pathways, out-of-school time programs for middle school students and early learning. The foundation intends to accomplish its work over a fifteen-year period.

 

This youth development strategy in Philadelphia has become the Lenfest Foundation’s new trademark and will continue to shape the Lenfest legacy of helping people help themselves in the years ahead.

 

 

 

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest | 1930-2018

Philadelphia lost a civic giant with the passing of H.F. Gerry Lenfest, who died August 5, 2018, at the age of 88. Reflecting on his life and legacy, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the Philadelphia of today without the incomparable leadership and largesse of Gerry Lenfest. The businessman and entrepreneur turned philanthropist extraordinaire ranks among the city’s most highly-respected and influential civic leaders, and the philanthropic path he blazed with his wife Marguerite will certainly have a profound impact on the fabric of our city for decades to come.

The Lenfests became wealthy from the sale of their cable business in 2000, and were among a new breed of donors whose mission was to give away the vast majority of their fortune during their lifetime.  In less than 20 years, the couple‘s giving has exceeded $1.3 billion. While the Lenfest’s philanthropy touched on a range of issues, Gerry is perhaps best known in Philadelphia for his financial support and leadership of some of the city’s major arts and cultural institutions, including The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Curtis Institute of Music, The Barnes Foundation, and the Museum of the American Revolution. His giving also made headlines recently when he purchased Philadelphia Media Network (owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News and Philly.com) and donated it to a newly-created nonprofit, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the first-of-its-kind organization dedicated to developing and supporting sustainable business models for great local journalism. 

Last year the Lenfests joined a distinguished roster of donors to be honored with the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. The award citation noted their innate modesty and hailed them for embodying the essence of generosity, altruism, and dedication to the common good.

 

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