photo of Morton Deutch

The Largest Gift

Faith SandlerAwards to Students, Education, Giving, Impact, Words of Faith

photo of Morton Deutch

This is a story worth telling. Were this only about money, the headline might read: Foundation Receives Largest Gift in Nearly 100-Year History. And that would be true. But also true is a tale of heart-stopping humility and commitment so deep it can afford to be silent.

Last June, a small obituary of Morton Deutch ran in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Mr. Deutch was a generous donor to The Scholarship Foundation. I attended the funeral, knowing there would be no family to receive condolences or share warm memories. There were just seven of us present, including the rabbi, the lawyer and banker who represented his estate, two staff members from the Gatesworth (where he lived) and a neighbor.

You might be tempted to think of this sparse attendance as sad, but I’d urge otherwise. Thanks to a caring attorney and an artful remembrance by the rabbi, we learned that the person we’d come to remember and bless was much more than we ever knew. Mr. Deutch had filled his days with meaning, and he was leaving a legacy indeed.

A few days after his graduation from high school, Morton Deutch was recruited into counterintelligence in World War II, a post the rabbi described as “ferreting out Nazis.” He returned from service to study engineering at Rolla School of Mines (later University of Missouri-Rolla and then Missouri University of Science and Technology). His long career at Mc Donnell Douglas (now Boeing) had been challenging and fulfilling. After retirement, he focused on his twin passions for fly fishing and antiquarian book binding and restoration, a skill he volunteered with area cultural institutions. He was a “mensch”, said the rabbi, and left his entire estate to four organizations supporting children’s health and higher education.

As he read the names of the organizations that would benefit, the rabbi mentioned The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, along with three others. This was news, and I choked back tears. Mr. Deutch had created Designated Scholar Loan Funds in the 1990s, one in memory of his mother, Rose Deutch, who raised him with a love of learning he would not forget and one in memory of his aunt, Jennie Bornstein, who was a teacher and made sure her nephew knew the power and possibility of his own intellect.

At a later point, when making a gift from the remainder of a family estate, Mr. Deutch had two requests.  First, the funds should support interest-free loans for students attending Missouri University of Science and Technology or quality trade and technical schools. Second, we should know this was a one-time occurrence and we should not expect that he would be able to give such generous gifts ever again. In fact, he pre-emptively declined any future invitations to lunch or coffee or donor events. He was committed to education, had given, and would be focusing on restoring books.

The Scholarship Foundation honored those wishes, keeping in touch by written correspondence and from time to time inviting Mr. Deutch to meet some of the students whose education he had made possible. He sent annual gifts consistently, for which we were grateful. But it was not until the trust officer who handled his estate called a week after the funeral that we knew that the Foundation had been named beneficiary of 40 percent of Mr. Deutch’s estate.

Last week we received a distribution of $3.8 million.

This is the largest single gift The Scholarship Foundation has ever received. As we approach 100 years of service to the region in 2020, we will do so with strength and with firmly planted roots, thanks to Mr. Deutch and the blessed memory of his mother and aunt. His gift is a reminder that education remains a powerful force for good, whether we must hunt Nazis, redesign systems, or preserve the printed word. What greater gift is there?

– Faith Sandler