A Surprise Donation from the Grave

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KidsPeace, a national organization that helps children in crisis, received a surprising gift in June: a $3.2 million donation from a Civil War veteran who has been dead for 80 years.

That’s more than eight times the $385,000 in public donations KidsPeace received in the 2005 fiscal year.

“I was so excited for our kids,” said CEO C.T. O’Donnell. “We’ve seen a number of lean years recently.”

The benefactor, Adam Brinker, became a wealthy businessman in Bethlehem, Pa., after serving in the Civil War. When he died in 1928, he left behind a peculiar will.

Brinker set up six separate trust funds: one each for his wife, two daughters, two grandchildren and great-granddaughter. After each beneficiary died, that person’s remaining funds were rolled into a single fund. After the last person in the will died, the residue from all six funds was to be split equally among three local organizations.

By the time Brinker’s great-granddaughter died in 2005, the fund had grown to $9.4 million.

That marked the beginning of the legal journey that would eventually leave $3.2 million on KidsPeace’s doorstep.

The organizations listed in Brinker’s will were St. Luke’s Hospital in Fountain Hill, Pa.; the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pa.; and a place named the Children’s Home of Salisbury Township.

The Children’s Home was started in 1882 by the president of the Bethlehem Iron Company and provided a temporary care center for impoverished children, orphans and single-parent children. In 1895, the Wiley House was built in Salisbury as a permanent safe haven for youth, and the organization took on the new name. A couple of name changes later, the organization became KidsPeace, in 1992.

KidsPeace has far outgrown its Salisbury britches. The organization has 66 centers across the country, specializing in residential care, such as a psychiatric hospital, foster care and juvenile justice programs – far more than anything Adam Brinker would have envisioned.

Lawyers for Brinker’s estate traced Children’s Home to the Orefield, Pa.-based KidsPeace, and notified O’Donnell, the CEO, that his group could have the money if it could legally show that it was the original Children’s Home.

O’Donnell was skeptical that would happen. “I never count on things like this,” he said.

Lawyers took up the task of proving KidsPeace’s connection and Adam Brinker’s intent. They scoured records from nearly 100 years ago, and Brinker’s name popped up on the minutes of a Children’s Home meeting and on a list of board members, O’Donnell said. They also found documentation of a $10 donation by Brinker to the children’s home for general needs, foreshadowing the funds to come.

The organization also had to show records of its name changes.

After almost two years of historical digging, KidsPeace received its inheritance on its 125th birthday in June.

Brinker’s will did not say how the money should be spent. O’Donnell called that “a real sign of generosity and thinking ahead.”

KidsPeace’s board, and specifically its finance committee, will decide where the funds will go. O’Donnell said they might go toward endowments, building projects and balancing out finances in years with lower donations. He said the money will not be spent to help alleviate the $70 million debt remaining from the construction of KidsPeace’s campus in Orchard Hills, Pa.