‘Be as generous as you can be’

By Marvin Druger

Almost all the mail delivered to my house consists of requests for donations. My name must be on a worldwide network of potential donors for all causes.

There seems to be no end to the ingenuity and persistence of the fundraisers.

Every cause is extremely urgent and the fundraisers try to make me believe that my donation will save humanity and the Earth from total destruction.

Sometimes, a check for $2.50 is included with the solicitation, with the request that I return the check with my donation.

Sometimes coins are included with a request. A certificate of appreciation and membership is often included with a reminder of how long I have been a donor to that cause.

I have a large collection of calculators, notepads, certificates, greeting cards, tote bags, calendars, pens and personalized address labels that have been related to requests for donations.

I literally have thousands of mailing labels that I can use in case I decide to send letters instead of text messages or emails to family and friends.

The tendency seems to be to offer a range of donation categories that usually range from $10 to leaving a large donation in my will.

What is annoying is the repeated request for a donation to a cause without reference to the fact that I have already donated to that cause during the same year.

The big dilemma is to choose the causes that seem most worthy of a donation.

Every request comes with a compelling letter, written by a professional fundraiser. Almost every cause seems worthy of my donation. I don’t have endless amounts of money, so I have to ask which causes should I support? My tendency is to make small donations to multiple causes. I tend to favor donating to curing human diseases, as compared to helping non-human causes. This is not to suggest that non-human causes are not worthy of support, but it is a matter of personal preferences and financial limitations. Certainly, I want to help all these causes, but there is a limit to which ones to help. I tend not to support causes that submerge me with unsolicited gifts. I want my full donation to be used directly to help cure a disease, rather than waste the money on unsolicited gifts, such as personalized mailing labels, pens, calculators etc.

I think this deluge of donation requests dates back to my dear wife Pat who died in 2014. She was extremely caring and generous. She donated to a large number of causes. Since I have a “depression mentality,” common to people of my age, I don’t readily part with money. I have difficulty living lavishly.

This must date back to the depression days and my poor childhood. That’s probably why I enjoy shopping in the Dollar Store and I seek bargains wherever I go. My latest bargain purchase was a Berkley Jenson, wrinkle-free, long-sleeved shirt from the Farmer’s Market for $5. I am proud of that purchase, even though I may never wear that shirt. In fact, I selected a medium shirt but didn’t notice that the sleeves were too long. I tried to exchange the shirt the next week, but the proprietor refused to make the exchange because I had removed the tags. So, I ended up buying an additional shirt for another $5.

When the Life Sciences Complex was being built at Syracuse University, my wife wanted to have a laboratory named after me. She donated a large sum of my money to establish the “Marvin Druger Introductory Biology Laboratory.” I told a student about this donation and I said, “I didn’t know that I had that much money.” His response was, “You don’t anymore.”

Occasionally, my wife and I went to a dance theater in New York City. I opened the program and saw our names listed as donors. I complained and said, “Pat, we almost never go to this theater. Why did you give them a donation?” She replied, “We have to support the arts.” I said nothing, but I thought to myself, “We don’t have to support the arts all over the world.”   

My wife donated money to establish the “Druger Family Community Room” at Jowonio School in Syracuse. This is an excellent school for preschoolers, many of whom have disabilities. I donated funds to purchase a new carpet for this room.

As a result of our donations, the Druger name appears in many places on the Syracuse University campus. We have our names on a bench, a tree, the Orange Grove, a chair in Setnor Auditorium and other places. When I give campus tours, I always point out these sites to encourage others to make similar donations.

Handling finances is not something that I do well and my wife managed all the finances. Indeed, I was given an allowance of $400 each month. For a while I mostly used the money to pay for gas and miscellaneous meals. Then, I realized that I could put a card called Visa into a slot on the gas pump. Since Pat handled all the bills, she would pay the Visa bill at the end of the month. I put my excess money into a can. One day, I thought I’d better put that money into the bank for interest. It turned out that I had I had $7,000 in the can.

My name appeared on all of my wife’s donations. When I complained about the donations, she said, “I’m making you a generous man.”

When Pat made endless donations, I said, “Why don’t you leave some money for us?” Her reply was, “What is there that you need that you don’t have?” I couldn’t answer that question. Lesson learned.

Holden Observatory was built in 1887. It was the second building on the Syracuse University campus, the Hall of Languages being the first. Erastus Holden donated funds to build Holden Observatory as a memorial to his son, Charles, an SU graduate who died of a heart ailment. The building houses a large telescope in a dome at the top of the building. For a while, the building was used for research and teaching purposes. Then, that function was abandoned and the building housed several different administrative offices, such as the Soling Program (an undergraduate research program) and the Senate Recorder’s office. The most recent occupant was the university cartographer. A gear was broken in the dome door and the telescope wasn’t used.

My wife was a strong advocate of astronomy. As a child, her father often took her to Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. She even completed an astronomy course taught by Gunter Wessel at SU. When she heard that Holden observatory was no longer being used for teaching purposes, she wanted to make a donation to fix the broken gear and restore Holden to its original intentions. Of course, I objected.

When Pat died in 2014, I wanted to memorialize her, so I gave a donation to establish the Patricia Meyers Astronomy Learning Center at Holden Observatory. The project was known as the “Pat Project.” The project received loving attention from the workers, the chancellor, his wife, and the entire university community. The center is now used for teaching purposes. The broken gear was replaced and the telescope can now be used. Indeed, the physics department offers tours of the facility. I conduct such tours with graduate students in the physics department.

When you enter the building, you will see a beautiful photo of my wife. There is a plaque that I wrote near one side of the photo. The last sentence on the plaque says, ”Pat was a beautiful, sparkling star who lit up the lives of all those who knew and admired her. She will not be forgotten.”

Near the other side of the photo is a poem that I wrote:

The Yellow Day Lily
The yellow flower was beautiful,
It sparkled in the sun,
I put it in a vase
To be seen by everyone.

I told my wife the flower
Was as beautiful as she,
They both had special features
That brought happiness to me.

The next day the flower was gone,
It lay upon the floor,
It now was shrunken orange
And its yellow was no more.

It was here for just an instant,
But then it went away,
I wish this lovely lily
Could have stayed

A former student gave a donation to do landscaping outside the observatory. The building is now surrounded by beautiful foliage. There is a large scar on a tree at the southwest corner behind the observatory. Close observation reveals that this is not a scar, but a ceramic heart that looks like the bark of the tree. On the plaque, it says, “Marvin + Pat.”

I am proud of my donation to Holden Observatory and consider it to be the most important one in my life. Pat is now a permanent part of the Syracuse University campus.

Donating money to any significant cause brings joy and satisfaction. If you are fortunate enough to have funds to donate, I encourage you to do so. Helping others to survive on this planet is what life should be all about. Besides, they say, “You can’t take it with you.” My joking response to this comment is, “Then, I’m not going!”

But a generous person is one who is liked and admired by all, so be as generous as you can be.