Kathy Leser ’76 Creates Charitable Trust to Further Endow Her Father’s Scholarship

 Photo of Kathy Leser
Kathy Leser ’76

When Kathy Leser’s father, Walter H. Leser ’49, died, her mother created a Swarthmore scholarship in Walter’s name. Now Kathy ’76 has established a charitable remainder trust funded with appreciated stock that makes payments to her and eventually will add to her father’s scholarship endowment.

“I worked for PepsiCo for a number of years, and I got stock options at a very low rate; some of them are now quite valuable,” Kathy explains. “By gifting those appreciated stocks to Swarthmore, no capital-gain taxes need to be paid because they’re going to a nonprofit. And the payments I am getting are pretty much equivalent to the dividends that I would be getting anyway.”

In addition, Kathy got an income-tax deduction for her gift.

“My father’s time at Swarthmore was interrupted because of the war; I’m sure that without the GI bill and scholarship money, his family didn’t have the funds for him to be able to go there,” she says. “And so there is a little bit of that giving back mindset that I was raised with.”

Kathy grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half west of the campus. The proximity and her father being an alum were not the only reasons she chose Swarthmore.

“My parents encouraged me to look at small liberal arts colleges,” she recalls. “I liked the campus, I liked the environment, and I thought Swarthmore would be a great place to be.”

And so it was. In addition to majoring in economics, her involvement in student activities helped train her for her business career.

“I was part of the Student Budget Committee, and we were given the student activity fees to decide how to allocate them among the various student groups,” Kathy says. “That was a pretty heavy experience: You realize you’re dealing with what felt like a significant amount of money, and you were deciding how it was going to be spent—how it was going to shape the social life on campus. So you start to realize that you have a responsibility as part of this community. And I really do think that Swarthmore has done a fabulous job of creating a community.”

She says that sense of community made college life easier both socially and academically—including when it came to homework.

“I was part of a large intro calculus class with Dr. Rosen (the late David Rosen, who taught math at Swarthmore for 35 years), and I remember a group of us working calculus problems together at night,” she says. “And you just go, ‘This is weird; we’re a bunch of nerds doing calculus problems and having a great time doing it.’ ”

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Kathy went to the University of Chicago for her MBA. Now retired from a career in business, she lives just north of Lancaster in the town of Lititz. She never married and has no children. She visits annually for the Donor-Scholar Celebration each spring and finds today’s students “amazing” and “impressive.”

“They are so much more together than I ever felt like I was,” she says, rattling off a list of evidence: “the double majors or self-designed majors that they’ve come up with, the intern experiences that they’ve had, the special courses that they’ve taken … There has been one consistent theme in what each of them has had to say about what they would like to accomplish: not one of them talked about making a fortune, amassing great wealth or power, or anything along those lines; instead they spoke of making a difference, contributing, helping, creating a community, focusing on solving an issue plaguing society. They have flourished at Swarthmore, and the College should be pleased to have been able to facilitate that.”

She says that the College has also facilitated the donor experience.

“The College has done, I think, a masterful job of balancing ‘we want to stay in touch, but we don’t want to be obtrusive and we don’t want to always have our hand out.’ There’s a little bit of ‘think about us when you start to think about your planning.’ ”

She says that Sue Lathrop, associate director for individual giving, was especially helpful when Kathy was deciding how to design her gift.

“She did a very good job of talking about how this should be done and leading me through: ‘What are your various options? How do you want to structure this?’ And anticipating the questions that I would not have known to ask,” Kathy says. “And you end up thinking, OK, I feel good about what I’m doing.

“I never felt pressured into making a contribution. I felt like the College was mindful of my feelings, my financial situation, and what would work for me as well as benefiting them for the long-term.

“I think there’s a huge benefit in thinking about estate planning in general, obviously making sure that your own needs are taken care of. But to the extent that you have assets that can be put to better use somewhere else, then do it. It’s not that you have an obligation to do that, but there’s joy in doing that. Once you’re gone, you’re not going to be there to feel good about it. You don’t get a chance to say, ‘This is how I want my contribution spent, and this is how I want to create whatever legacy I have.’ And if you’re financially in a position to do that, do it now. The College benefits from it. You benefit from it.”

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