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Kingswood Oxford Announces Largest Gift in School History

Head of School Dennis Bisgaard and the late Jane Wardwell Roberts, who left Kingswood Oxford $3.5 million in her will – the largest gift in the school’s history. This photo was taken in October 2013. Photo credit: Monica Bisgaard.

A single donor has willed $3.5 million to Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford.

Head of School Dennis Bisgaard and the late Jane Wardwell Roberts, who left Kingswood Oxford $3.5 million in her will – the largest gift in the school’s history. This photo was taken in October 2013. Photo credit: Monica Bisgaard.

Head of School Dennis Bisgaard and the late Jane Wardwell Roberts, who left Kingswood Oxford $3.5 million in her will – the largest gift in the school’s history. This photo was taken in October 2013. Photo credit: Monica Bisgaard.

Submitted by Michelle M. Murphy, Kingswood Oxford School

When Jane Wardwell Roberts of New Hampshire died last year at age 90, she left Kingswood Oxford School an extraordinary $3.5 million – the single largest donation in school history.

The widow of Kenneth DeWitt Roberts ’34, Mrs. Roberts included KO in her will to honor a commitment made by her husband in gratitude for “the stellar education” he said he received at Kingswood, which he credited for his professional success.

“Ken strongly believed that he would not have performed nearly as well in college had he not attended Kingswood, and that his years at the school were among his most formative,” Mrs. Roberts said in the Summer 2010 Kingswood Oxford Magazine.

KO received the first $1.5 million installment of the gift, which is earmarked entirely for financial aid, in December 2015. The balance will be paid in the summer of 2016.

“The trustees are very appreciative of the enormous generosity of Kenneth and Jane Roberts,” said Avery Rockefeller, Chair of the KO Board of Trustees. “This single gift represents a 14 percent increase in the school’s endowment, and it’s especially meaningful that it will go toward tuition assistance.”

A graduate of MIT, Roberts made his living as an engineer and sought-after author, professor, and book publisher. He and Jane Wardwell married in 1965, and the couple moved to New Hampshire in 1970, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Kenneth Roberts died in 2000, and Jane Roberts died on Feb. 10, 2015.

Head of School Dennis Bisgaard and his wife Monica visited with Mrs. Roberts a number of times after he became Head at KO, the most recent being about six months before her death.

“She was lively, had a sharp mind, and a wonderful, dry sense of humor,” Bisgaard recalled. “She was a delight to be with.”

The Roberts’ generosity to KO actually began in the 1990s, when they established the Kenneth and Jane Roberts Scholarship to ensure that finances did not prevent “talented and deserving students” from experiencing KO’s “exceptional academic opportunities,” Mrs. Roberts told KO Magazine.

“Ken himself had been on a scholarship at Kingswood,” said Bisgaard. “He and Jane were always strong supporters of financial aid.”

And, they embraced the idea of paying it forward. “When we were young, people took chances on us,” Mrs. Roberts told KO Magazine. “So later on in life, we felt it was time to take chances on others.”

Her unprecedented bequest will help ensure what she called the “future of excellence and opportunities at KO,” which was important to her and her husband.

“Mrs. Roberts’ gift clearly demonstrates the impact one can have by joining the Nicholson-Martin Society,” said Brad Hoffman ’78, Co-Vice Chair of the KO Board of Trustees, who is also a member of the Nicholson-Martin Society himself. “A simple step of planned giving makes it possible for an individual to affect many future generations of Kingswood Oxford students.”

Jane Wardwell Roberts grew up in Milford, CT, and enrolled in Russell Sage College in Troy, NY. While she was a student there, she lived at the YWCA, working as many as three jobs at a time to support herself.

After graduating in 1950, she moved to New York City and worked as a group leader in a settlement house, and later as the director of a Girl Scout camp and waterfront director of a YWCA camp. She then moved to Chicago, where she served as a group worker for the Jane Addams’ Hull House, an organization that provided social and educational opportunities for children of recent immigrants.

In 1961, Mrs. Roberts wrote and illustrated 10 Cent Crafts for Kids, which was published and reprinted several times by the Association Press of New York. After earning a Master’s in Education the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she taught middle and high school English and History in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“We used to trade teaching stories, and I could tell from the projects and activities she did with her students long, long ago that she was clearly ahead of her time,” said Bisgaard. “She was an educator at heart.”

After moving to New Hampshire, Jane Roberts opened a 19th-century print shop, where she collected and used antique printing presses and type – one of her lifelong interests. She was also very active in the Fitzwilliam, NH, community where she and her husband spent most of their lives; from 1970-2013, she served on the Monadnock Regional School District Budget Committee, the Fitzwilliam Newsletter, and the Zoning Board of Adjustment, for many years as its chairman.

“She truly was a remarkable individual who defied age, read widely, was engaged in local politics, always trying to help and improve things around her,” added Bisgaard.

 

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