Grad gives $1M gift, decades after death

08/06/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By REBECCA PIRO
Sun Staff

 

LOWELL The University of Massachusetts Lowell is poised to receive one of the most significant gifts in its history from a donor it knows next to nothing about who graduated at the turn of the 20th century.

UMass Lowell will receive $1 million in cash as the result of a gift from the late alumnus Cheney Cook.

The majority of the gift, $670,000, comes from Cook's estate. The remaining $330,000 is courtesy of the state's new endowment incentive program, which matches 50 cents per dollar of donations for public colleges and universities.

The unusual part: Cook died more than 40 years ago.

Cook graduated in 1905 with a diploma in wool manufacturing from the Lowell Textile School, an institution that was destined to become part of today's UMass Lowell. He went on to become president of a Norwood tannery called Winslow Brothers and Smith Co., as well as vice president of Second Bank-State Street Trust in Boston.

When he died childless in 1961, he willed that part of his estate be donated to Lowell Textile after his last heir passed away.

Lawyers handling Cook's estate contacted UMass Lowell recently to announce the gift's arrival.

"It's a real boost," said Matthew Eynon, executive director for university advancement. "Cash is critical to our success going forward."

While the university has received larger gifts than the Cook donation, they are often in the form of property, such as land or equipment. UMass Lowell is in the process of determining whether this cash donation carries stipulations for its use.

If it doesn't, the gift is even more unusual and significant, Eynon said because the university will have the freedom to do whatever it wishes with the money.

The money will add to the $180 million endowment shared by the university system as a whole.

Years ago, Cook's estate also donated money for a smaller, annual scholarship for a student with financial need, the total value of which is currently $60,000.

As for Cook's personal sentiments for the university, they remain a mystery at least for now. University officials have searched unsuccessfully for more information and contacts in Cook's family.

"We're continuing to look," Eynon said. "The trail has sort of run cold."

Rebecca Piro's e-mail address is rpiro@lowellsun.com .