By George Halsey
How a unique community became a unique foundation
On the 50th anniversary of the MacJannet Foundation, the question persists: How did a modest school that never enrolled more than 60 students at any one time and a summer camp that never housed more than 80 campers spawn a foundation whose influence today extends around the globe?
The long-run answer is: values. From the 1920s onward, the original MacJannet School outside Paris and the MacJannet Camps in the French Alps instilled the values of Donald and Charlotte MacJannet in their young clients. And when those children grew up, they applied those values in directions that far exceeded the MacJannetsâ€™ original vision. But the immediate catalyst for what became the MacJannet Foundation was hunger. It was the MacJannetsâ€™ mutual concern for war-ravaged orphans that planted the first seeds of what subsequently evolved into the MacJannet Foundation.
The spirit of humanitarian outreach across international boundaries was always central to Donald and Charlotteâ€™s values. But Donald and Charlotte arrived at that shared outlook from divergent paths.
While Donaldâ€™s family in America was deeply religious to the point of practicing the vow of poverty, Donald said he achieved no feeling of spiritual grace in the pious aspect. He nevertheless felt the deepest empathy for the unfortunate. He felt the anguish of starving war orphans so personally that the sight of wasted food in first-class restaurants made him ill.
Charlotte, on the other hand, experienced the privations of war firsthand in Germany. During World War I and the hyperinflation that followed, her family was often hungry in their Rhineland village. â€œFormerly self-supporting people visited soup kitchens, disguised by veils,â€ she recalled.
On opposite sides
The MacJannet School families shared close bonds of friendship. Their children spent weekends at each otherâ€™s homes. On Sunday afternoons, the parents, students and teachers socialized over tea at the school.
(A lively Greek princeâ€” later the Duke of Edinburghâ€” nearly destroyed a 300-year-old Imperial Ming vase during a game of house tag at the home of the Chinese ambassador to France.) Studentsâ€™ parents and siblings often joined Donald MacJannetâ€™s winter ski trips in the Alps and long field trips to Africa.
Yet this community included people from countries on opposing sides of the impending conflagration of World War II, notably starting with Charlotte and Donald themselves. Prominent members of their community included ambassadors from Japan, China, and the U.S. Imagine the anguish shared by these close international friends as the outside world descended into jingoism. The older members had seen this pattern before. What could they possibly do about it?
By the time World War II chased the MacJannets from France to America in 1940, Donald and Charlotte had been married eight years. During the war years and afterward, Donald convened a nameless international group of friends and alumni (called â€œThe MacJannet Committeeâ€ by its members) devoted to the plight of war orphans. Each member undertook a unique program addressing needs in their home countries.
For example, Lucia de Viti de Marco Pecorella of Rome organized a home for disabled war orphans that functioned for more than 30 years. Maurice Plateau, the managing director of the French Entraide Cooperative, established a chain of French summer camps, modeled on the MacJannet camp, that addressed malnourishment among working class children. Miki Sawada, matriarch of the Mitsubishi Group in Tokyo, worked tirelessly for decades to provide care for more than 2,000 abandoned children of African-American GIs in Japan. (Her courageous story was later chronicled in The Least of These: Miki Sawada and Her Children, a 1981 book by Elizabeth Anne Hemphill with a foreword by Donald MacJannet.)
Donald, for his part, undertook a postwar campaign to drum up American support for the Marshall Plan, creating documentary newsreel films (like France Rebuilds) that were screened in movie theaters throughout the U.S. in that pre-television era. He organized his informal circle into â€œThe MacJannet Committee for Aid to French Children.â€ The MacJannet Camp itself served as a kind of rehabilitation experience for malnourished French children and orphans in 1947 and â€™48.
In the 1960s, after the MacJannets acquired and restored the PrieurÃ© de Talloires, the Macs converted it into a de facto humanitarian center, hosting various cultural events there, as well as the annual Entretiens gatheringsâ€” symposiums that devoted several days to a specific philosophical topic.
By then, Donald was past 70 and Charlotte was approaching 70 as well.Â Increasingly, their inner circle of friends and alumni searched for a way to perpetuate both the MacJannetsâ€™ values and the PrieurÃ©â€™s purpose after the MacJannets themselves were gone. Several members of this group were already well familiar with fund-raising for non-profit schools and humanitarian institutions. They included Howard Cook, president of International House in New York; Amos Booth, headmaster of St. Bernardâ€™s School in New York; my Dad, Jim Halsey, president of the University of Bridgeport; John Rich, the dean of admissions at Rollins College in Florida; and Ruth Snyder, a former MacJannet camp counselor and head of a family foundation. Inevitably, the idea of creating a charitable foundation bubbled to the surface.
For that matter, Donald MacJannet himself had once been a fund-raiser for his alma mater, Tufts University. But as Mary Harris, an early director of the Tufts European Center in the PrieurÃ©, recalled, â€œThe thought of raising money in his own name was a tough nut for him to swallow. Only when the Foundation was established to further the ideals that the MacJannets had lived for did he and Charlotte allow this to happen.â€
Search for funds
In the mid-1960s, several potential benefactorsâ€” including the MacJannetsâ€” offered to help finance such a foundation. One friend from the MacJannet Committee era of the 1940s offered to donate a substantial estate that could provide an initial critical mass of funding. The idea of an annual appeal for small donations also seemed self-evident to the committeeâ€™s members.
As a university president in Connecticut, my dad, Jim Halsey, was able to engage a local law firm to incorporate the MacJannet Foundation, Inc., on a pro bono basis. Its purpose, as stated in its original charter, was to â€œpromote international cooperation and understanding through the support of educational, cultural and scientific programs for the welfare of humankind.â€ Donald MacJannet was the founding president, Charlotte vice president, and Jim Halsey secretary-treasurer.
The first order of business involved negotiations for the funding anticipated from the estate of the prospective principal benefactor. But the foundationâ€™s trustees concluded that the donorâ€™s terms were too restrictive and decided not to proceed with the original prospect.
Consequently, the MacJannet Foundation was formally launched on May 22, 1968 with only a $10,000 gift from Donald MacJannet. Donald and Charlotteâ€™s far-flung circle of friends, former students, and former campers soon chipped in with modest donations of their own. In its first five years, the Foundation raised an additional $38,867 from 72 other contributors, about half of whom gave gifts of less than $100 each.
Jean Mayerâ€™s proposal
Meanwhile, a small ad hoc group of European industrialists and others began meeting annually at the PrieurÃ© to discuss a variety of humanitarian interests under the rubric Le Groupe de Talloires. This group included Donald MacJannet; Jean Mayer, president of Tufts University; Charles Merieux, president of Institute MÃ©rieux and a global leader in the field of human and veterinary vaccines and pharmaceuticals; and Henry Leir, president of SociÃ©tÃ© Anonyme des Minerais, a holding company for his business empire. Like the Foundationâ€™s founders, this group was also interested in continuing the MacJannetsâ€™ role in the PrieurÃ© and the life of Talloires. In these discussions Jean Mayer and Donald first contemplated the idea of Donaldâ€™s donating the PrieurÃ© to Tufts. Leir and Merieux indicated they would consider providing financial support if needed.
Leir subsequently became one of Tuftsâ€™s largest donors. Later he made substantial donations to the MacJannet Foundation as well. Tufts, meanwhile, assumed ownership of the PrieurÃ© in 1978.
By 1982 the foundationâ€™s corpus had grown to nearly $250,000, and the number of donors to more than 600. Significant supporters included Ruth Snyder and her son Willard Snyder (camp counselor in 1957), through their familyâ€™s Breidenthal-Snyder Foundation; Cynthia Raymond (a camp counselor, 1930s); and George Forman (Donaldâ€™s first student in the 1920s, later an investment manager). More recent support has been furnished by Dan Rottenberg (1950s camper), through his familyâ€™s Performing Arts Foundation; Wenke Thoman Sterns (connected by marriage to the Fletcher School / IHUE Geneva Fellows program), Todd Langton (a former assistant director of the Tufts European center), and hundreds of former MacJannet students, teachers, campers and counselors, as well as continuing new friends who share the MacJannet core values. Wenke Thoman Sterns also organized seven black-tie â€œTalloires Nightâ€ fund-raising balls, which brought the mayor of Talloires as well as some of the villageâ€™s celebrated chefs to New York Cityâ€™s River Club for a memorable night every few years between 1990 and 2005.
Yet money has always been the least of the MacJannet Foundationâ€™s resources. Even today, a half-century after its birth, the MacJannet Foundationâ€™s corpus remains well below the $1 million mark. It derives its influence not so much from the dollars it distributes as from the creativity and vision it applies as it plants seeds for the future.
Throughout the Foundationâ€™s history, its board has never consisted of more than 17 volunteer trustees who attend an annual meeting at the PrieurÃ© and a fall meeting in Medford, plus extensive activity outside the formal meetings. Like their mentors the MacJannets, they are adept at making a dollar go a long way. During these 50 years, they have supported three international exchange programs (described elsewhere in this issue). They have helped seed other programs, like English classes at the Talloires primary school and a music center in Annecy; and they have helped create entirely new programs, notably the global Talloires Network of 379 university presidents committed to social engagement, and the MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship. Through that half-century the trustees have also served as de facto stewards of the PrieurÃ©. In the process, that 1,000-year-old monastery has assumed a vital new purpose as an incubator for creative ideas about humanityâ€™s future.