Skip to Navigation Skip to Content
Back to Impact Stories

Long After His Death: Withington Fund Reaches $1 Million Giving Mark

Withington disc gol Living Memorial Park courtesy BRP

Disc golf at Living Memorial Park, image courtesy of Brattleboro Parks & Recreation

Back in 1946, when Nelson Withington joined the board of the Brattleboro Outing Club, Harry Truman was president and movie tickets cost 40 cents.

Decades passed but what did not change was Withington’s belief in the power of recreation to build health and bring people together. He donated money to help pay for Brattleboro’s public tennis courts, indoor skating rink, and even a Zamboni to resurface the ice. As the local business leader neared the end of his life, Withington took steps to keep giving in perpetuity to the cause and the town he loved through a donor advised fund at the Vermont Community Foundation.

The strategy paid off. Now, 22 years after Withington’s death in 2002 at the age of 97, his namesake fund has awarded $1 million to recreation and other projects benefitting the public in Brattleboro. The Withington Fund grants, more than 30 in all, have supported major components of the development of West River Park, a disc golf course, scoreboards, and refurbishments to neighborhood pocket parks, basketball courts, and public trails.  

“Nelson Withington was visionary in seeing that a fund focused on recreation and parks for the Brattleboro community could enhance the quality of life and physical health of children, youth, and adults. He believed in the value of organized sports and informal recreation to build community spirit and teamwork,” said Elisabeth Marx, a senior philanthropic advisor at the Vermont Community Foundation who staffs the Withington fund in partnership with a local advisory committee and the Brattleboro Recreation and Parks Department.

“This fund demonstrates how people who love Vermont and their communities can use place-based and issue-driven funds to contribute in lasting ways to every corner of the state by working with the Vermont Community Foundation,” added Marx. “It is not uncommon to see these funds created with the proceeds of trusts, residual retirement accounts, or business sales.”

Withington set up his giving account at the Vermont Community Foundation to be a permanent charitable resource. This approach allows a charitable individual or family to extend and greatly increase the monetary value of their philanthropic contributions over time.

The math for a fund of this kind at the Vermont Community Foundation starts with initial contributions. These are invested in a donor or committee advised fund and accumulate interest, which compounds and grows tax-free. This allows the fund balance to increase even as a percentage is given out annually, assuring it will be a permanent asset to the community.

In the case of the Withington Fund, the endowed balance has grown in pace with inflation even after giving away $1 million. The fund will continue to make grants, currently totaling about $80,000 each year. Thus, with continued careful management through the Vermont Community Foundation, the fund can do good for generations to come.        

The Withington fund opened in 2004 and twenty years later has pushed many community-led projects to the finish line. Its grants have worked in partnership with taxpayer dollars, other private giving, and plenty of local volunteer muscle.

Brattleboro resident Pete Richards, a local advisory committee member to the Withington fund, learned how to ski and swim at Memorial Park. As an adult, he’s watched his children and other young people enjoy the same recreation facilities.   

“What an amazing thing to do for the town,” Richards said about Withington’s gift. The fund has made healthy activities accessible in every season, he added. “Whether it’s skiing, or the pool, or skating, or playing disc golf, or the skatepark, having options—and having something for everyone—is really important.”  

Serving as an advisor to the fund has been rewarding, he added, and so has working with the Vermont Community Foundation. “It’s really helpful to have the VCF as part of the discussion because it does help inform and guide our decisions.”

As the Withington Fund passes the $1 million giving mark this year, Carol Lolatte, director of Brattleboro’s Recreation and Parks Department, says the milestone is a reminder of how the fund has helped ensure that municipal recreation is open to everyone, regardless of income. “Mr. Withington would be very proud to see that his fund is still giving to the community to improve people’s lives,” Lolatte said.

Withington was born in Massachusetts and played lacrosse at Yale University. He moved to Brattleboro to work as general manager of Dunham Brothers, the shoe manufacturer that helped pioneer the outlet shopping concept. Withington was among the early backers of Brattleboro’s sprawling Living Memorial Park, which was created in 1955 with support from taxpayers, civic groups, and residents who cashed in their World War II bonds. His donations helped create the Nelson Withington Skating Facility, among other amenities, at the park.   

His giving continues through the Withington fund, with the Community Foundation actively sourcing projects in addition to those requested by Brattleboro Recreation and Parks. Some of the most recent projects supported by the Withington Fund at the Parks Department’s request replaced play equipment, lighting, and safety fences in small neighborhood parks to make them more inviting for nearby residents.

The giving fund has also elevated in recent grants the importance of reaching all segments of the community, with a grant to help the nonprofit Elnu Abenaki Atowi project purchase and preserve a two-acre parcel near a culturally significant petroglyph site on the Wantastegok sacred site and a grant to nonprofit Out in the Open to help build a rural LGBTQ+ center, both in Brattleboro.

As the Withington Fund celebrates 20 years of grantmaking, it epitomizes the closing sentence in a town history of Living Memorial Park that documents the work of volunteers who planted flowers, built bleachers, put down sod, and donated funds.

“In Brattleboro, people make dreams come true.”