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H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest Helped Me, Too

Of all the many wonderful ways in which philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest spent down his fortune, probably the least notable was the grant he gave to Temple University Press for Boathouse Row. Of course, it was the most notable as far as book  was concerned.

It happened like this: my editor at Temple Press, Micah Kleit (now publisher of Rutgers Press), had envisioned my book in black and white, for cost reasons. After all, Temple Press is not exactly rolling in bucks. But after I showed Micah the color images I was finding – 19th century prints of the Water Works,  oil colors by Thomas Eakins, and wonderful contemporary photos by my friend and former Inquirer colleague April Saul, he said, “We’ve got to get a grant.”

I thought immediately of Gerry Lenfest. I had recently interviewed him for the book because he had volunteered about $3 million to save Temple rowing, which its former president  was canning, despite its storied history.

“Why,” I had asked him, “did you save Temple rowing?” Lenfest had not gone to Temple (though he was then on the board) nor had he ever been a rower. He answered, “I couldn’t believe that Temple, the city’s principal university, couldn’t have a place on the Schuylkill. The sport is so germane to the city.”

Lenfest had also just saved the Inquirer, where I had worked for 30 years,  purchasing it when it looked like no one else would. Between his love of the city, his interest in Temple rowing and his appreciation for journalism, I thought he might look kindly on Temple Press’ relatively small request, which would largely go to printing.

And so I made my pitch. In part, I wrote him in an email: “Because of the Row’s importance to the city and its largely untold history, Temple wants to do justice to the material, especially the photographs – about 150 of them, many in color. But it finds itself underfunded for the new scope of the project.”

He immediately agreed, which is why Boathouse Row sits on a lot of coffee tables and weighs 3 pounds. And which is why I got to visit him in his office and give him a hug.

Please read about the many ways in which Gerry Lenfest truly helped the city  in the Inquirer’s obituary here.