WATERBURY—John “Jack” Staver of Watertown, Connecticut, who passed away at the age of 80 in January 2018, has bequeathed more than $4 million to establish a permanent charitable fund at Connecticut Community Foundation. The donation is the largest by an individual in the Foundation’s 96-year history.
Mr. Staver designated the fund to benefit the performing arts in the Greater Waterbury region, the maintenance and improvement of the Town of Watertown’s recreational facilities, and the general operations of the Greater Waterbury YMCA.
Since 1923 when a small group of local leaders formed Connecticut Community Foundation to pool their financial resources to improve the quality of life of Greater Waterbury residents, more than 500 individuals, businesses and organizations have created charitable funds at the Foundation. By thoughtfully stewarding the funds over the years and always honoring donors’ wishes, the Foundation turns the donations into grants to forever benefit nonprofit organizations serving 21 towns across Greater Waterbury and the Litchfield Hills. The Staver Fund will be stewarded similarly by the Foundation.
Julie Loughran, president and CEO of Connecticut Community Foundation, said, “Mr. Staver embodied the best of philanthropy. He had deep gratitude for the local experiences that enriched his own life—exercising at the Y, visiting Watertown’s parks, taking in live local performances—and wanted them to be available for others to enjoy. Now they will be, for generations to come, thanks to his careful planning and generous spirit."
Recipients of Mr. Staver’s gift were floored upon hearing the news, since they perceived him as living modestly and “under the radar.”
He checked in at the Greater Waterbury YMCA nearly every evening for more than fifty years carrying an old battered gym bag, recalled employees Paula Labonte and Jim O’Rourke and former employee Angie Matthis. As Mr. Staver pumped up and down on the elliptical machine, he wore the same faded denim shirt and denim running shorts, knee-high white tube socks and an old-style headphone radio with protruding antennas. The staff respectfully called him “Mr. Staver,” and while he always kept to himself, he’d often banter at the front desk with the staff well after the Y had closed for the evening.
Jim O’Rourke, chief executive officer of the YMCA, reflected, “He was so humble and so quiet…and just a genuine, good person. For him to think about the Y in such a special way is so powerful and I’m just so happy we had an impact on him. I would say that we were an extension of his family―we were his family.”
Mr. O’Rourke indicated that Mr. Staver’s extraordinary gift can help the YMCA expand the breadth and quality of its preschool and school-aged programs and help more families access them regardless of ability to pay.
Mr. Staver spent most of his life in Watertown, Connecticut, and was a fixture for many years on the public tennis courts or on the Annex Pond in town where he ice skated, said Lisa Carew, director of Watertown Parks and Recreation. She recalled Mr. Staver tooling around town in an older-model car as Watertown’s first recycling coordinator, and said that Mr. Staver also helped older people at the senior center learn to drive or to prepare their taxes.
“He was very, very reserved, very quiet, low-key and methodical,” she said.
Yet he often stopped by Ms. Carew’s office ―they had known each other for more than thirty years― to lightheartedly air a persistent grievance: the tennis courts had no park benches. Ms. Carew would playfully respond that they didn’t have the money; he would have to buy one himself.
Ms. Carew and Bill Donston, the chair of Watertown’s park and recreation commission, said that they are committed to fulfilling Mr. Staver’s legacy through improvements to the town’s recreational facilities. Big ticket items on their lists include adding lights to playing fields, rehabilitating the tennis courts, adding fencing for a dog park, completing sections of local greenways, and building a park pavilion.
But—in honor of Mr. Staver—new park benches will be installed first, they said.
Said Ms. Carew, “To know that you made the kind of impression on somebody that they would think of you and entrust you to make our community better… It’s really amazing and it’s an incredible thing for Watertown. Thanks to Jack, we’re going to be able to ramp up everything we do here.”