A Foundation of Trust

By Deborah Dudley

For Thomas P. Saddlemire, St. Lawrence University trustee and Class of 1970 graduate, the motivation to support the University through unrestricted giving is simple.

“I’ve been a trustee for nine years, and I can see the dynamics of the education marketplace. Competitive ripples and regulatory changes that cut across education leave a lot of uncertainty about what you have to do to position yourself successfully for the future. St. Lawrence needs all the flexibility—in terms of how it uses its resources—that it can possibly have, to stay competitive,” says Saddlemire.

Tom, along with his wife Connie ’70, are the architects of a unique unrestricted gift that will ensure the University has that competitive edge. Their financial circumstances have afforded them the opportunity to capitalize on a new permanent tax law, the IRA Charitable Rollover. This charitable rollover allows the Saddlemires to directly gift up to $100,000 to a charity from their IRA each year, with any remaining principal bequeathed to the University upon their deaths. The nature of the Saddlemires’ $2.1 million gift will give both St. Lawrence a strategic advantage and the Saddlemires a tax advantage for their lifetimes. It is both practical and generous—a win-win for everyone, especially St. Lawrence University students.

The Saddlemires have a long history of generosity to St. Lawrence, having supported many facets of the University experience. Their gifts have been inspired by Connie’s career as an artist in supporting the student arts experience and exposure as well as by their love of the outdoors, and Tom’s passion for trails expressed through their investment in establishing the Saddlemire Trail on campus. However, it is through the lens of a former CFO that Tom articulates the reasons behind their latest gift.

“Some people are interested in specific giving, and that is important, too,” Tom says, “But as a former chief financial officer, I can see the need for the flexibility of deploying your resources to where the greatest need is. Whether that be for programming or facilities and the mix of how we support students—you can’t predict where the funds will be needed down the road.”

Tom recognizes that, in addition to unrestricted gifts, the University will continue to make the case for specific endowments, scholarships and major giving initiatives. However, he says, “If you are setting up something that is going to play out over 20 or 30 years, it is obvious that flexibility is key.”

Tom adds, “It is easy for me to express my trust because, as a member of the board of trustees, I’ve experienced the process for the last nine years, and I trust the leadership.” He points to the integration of Kirk Douglas Hall with the renovation of the Richard F. Brush ’52 University  Quad, the careful recovery of funds in the aftermath of the Gunnison Memorial Chapel spire fire and replacement, the long-term vision of the Johnson Hall of Science and how that has elevated programming in the sciences, as well as the benefits of the Sullivan Student Center as a center point of campus activity and community.

“All the investments were wise,” Tom says. “I see how we operate: It is inclusive, sensitive to the various campus constituencies, and I trust that process will continue.”

Tom and Connie know first-hand how profound the St. Lawrence experience can be on the entirety of a student’s life. One example that Tom singles out is the connection he made during his senior year, when he was interviewed by an alumnus from General Electric. That interview was the very beginning of a long career with GE, where Tom became a chief financial officer of three GE businesses.

He credits a strong liberal arts education: both the practical math and accounting classes, which directly translated to his work at GE, and arts and humanities courses, resulting in a deep appreciation for the arts reinforced by Connie’s lifelong work as an artist. They both learned to love winter and the mountains, and Tom is not surprised that he and Connie ended up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, along with several other Laurentians.

Tom also credits his role as Phi Sigma Kappa house treasurer and president as providing transferrable leadership skills. “It was like running a business. It was chaotic and dynamic and it had financials and balance sheets, and keeping the cook happy, and fixing up the house, and you name it, I had to address it,” Tom says.

“And of course,” Tom concludes about the most lasting impact of all, “I met my wife at St. Lawrence.” At the time of their graduation in 1970, it may have been hard to comprehend but now Tom says, “Connie and I appreciate how St. Lawrence set us both up to move forward in our lives for the next half century.”