Anonymous 'fairy godmother' donates $1.5M to UH-Hilo


POSTED: Saturday, May 16, 2009

The checks, literally, came in the mail—a $1.5 million unsolicited donation from a mysterious benefactor for scholarships and priority projects at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

The donation, the largest anonymous gift to UH-Hilo in the school's history, appears to be from the same person The New York Times called “;a fairy godmother.”; She, or he, has given, at last count, $93 million to at least 19 universities across the country, according to news reports.

Like the other schools that received checks, UH-Hilo is headed by a woman—Chancellor Rose Tseng.

“;It means we're doing good. We're very proud to be the one that's picked,”; Tseng said. “;They know what we do. They know we must be making some difference in students' lives and the community.”;

Two checks arrived on April 1, the same day many of the other universities received the money, and the money was directed to similar purposes.

One check, for $1 million, is earmarked for scholarships at UH-Hilo. The other check, for $500,000, can be spent at the university's discretion.

What makes the gifts really unusual is the secrecy surrounding the donor, whose identity is not even known to the university.

The checks, which have cleared, came from a bank in Arizona which is protecting the giver's identity.

The UH Foundation, in an e-mail, declined to speculate about the source of the donation.

“;We have no way of knowing if this gift to UH-Hilo is related to the others, but like other universities across the country, we have been following these reports with a great deal of interest,”; the foundation wrote.

Tseng, who knows many of the other chancellors who received funds, said the letter from the donor is similar to the others.

She said the benefit of the gift is more important than who is giving the money.

“;We have to honor the intent (of the donor),”; she said. “;We want to transform students' lives. We want to transform the community.”;

The gift has not been spent yet. The Board of Regents must still vote to accept it.

UH-Hilo plans to use some of the scholarship money to start a matching donor program to solicit more scholarship money.

“;We want to use it as an investment to get more gifts and give more back,”; Tseng said.

The chancellor said she does not know yet how the other moneys will be spent.

“;We want to use it very carefully,”; Tseng said. “;Whoever this donor is will feel good that it generates positive results.”;