Preserving a Legacy Through Education

March 18, 2013

Creating a family foundation has long been a popular and effective way for families to give back to the communities in which they live.  For Joseph and Elsie Beck, who for several decades lived down the road from Seton Hall University in South Orange, it was a natural extension of their support for the university and its students.  Joseph Beck, who was a successful NJ businessman and entrepreneur, also served on the Board of the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University.

The original Beck Foundation, which was founded in the mid-1950’s, has provided countless scholarships over several decades to local students, especially for those interested in engineering.  This focus was important to the Becks who felt cultivating an interest in engineering and science among young people was critical for the country’s future global competitiveness.

The Becks’ keen foresight helped guide the foundation over several decades, during which time its scope expanded and it provided scholarships to a broader array of students with unique academic interests.

When Elsie Beck passed away in the 1970s – preceded by Joseph’s death in the late 1960’s – the important work of the foundation was left to its four-person Board of Trustees, all young men who were particularly close to Joseph and Elsie.  The trustees did not miss a beat, supporting numerous worthy institutions, including area high schools, colleges, and several nonprofit organizations.  Over time, however, they began to think about the best way to preserve the Becks’ legacy beyond their own tenure as trustees.

The questions they faced are not unlike those at other family foundations.

  • What happens to a family foundation after its founders pass away? 
  • Should it continue on with new trustees over time?  Should it shift its focus or scale down its giving? 
  • Should it shut down entirely?

The answers to these questions are different in every case, and sometimes the decisions are forced upon families due to lack of funds, interest or focus.

But for the Beck trustees, it was important that Joseph’s and Elsie’s legacy continue on.

Last year, this led the trustees to an important milestone.  They would transfer the foundation’s assets to a professionally managed fund at the Community Foundation of New Jersey (CFNJ), provide specific guidelines for giving, and serve in an advisory role going forward.  CFNJ would professionally administer the funds and also bring its own expertise in the areas of scholarship evaluation and selection.

As part of the transition, the trustees – now “advisors” – made several closing grants to nonprofits they had worked with over the years, directed $1 million to the Stillman School of Business to create a permanent memorial scholarship program and research fund, and preserved the remaining funds at CFNJ to give four-year scholarships to students over a 20-year period.

Today CFNJ is proud to have distributed the second round of annual Beck scholarships to area students.  Scholarships ranged from $3,500 to $9,000 per year, and are part of a four-year commitment to students based on performance.  As part of its administration of the program, CFNJ requests and reviews students’ transcripts and annual update reports.

In keeping with the trustees’ guidelines, CFNJ’s scholarship committee gives preference to students who graduate from one of six local high schools and/or will be attending one of eight universities, all of which had received Beck Foundation support over the years.  It is also a priority to look past simply test scores, and select students with character, promise, and potential.

CFNJ provides the four advisors to the fund with an annual report on progress as well as updates on the scholarship recipients.

From the Seton Hall senior who accelerated her degree to be on track to graduate in three years to the St. Vincent College freshman who volunteers his time at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newark, the stories of these students is testament to Joseph and Elsie Beck’s generosity and foresight nearly 70 years ago.

This new fund has not only preserved the Becks’ important legacy, but also ensured educational opportunities for many students going forward.  For the four men who nearly 40 years ago were made responsible for the Beck Foundation, it has been a job well done.