Centennial Foundation at the Center of Swarthmore’s Civic Life

Central Park will change the complexion of the Swarthmore Town Center, adding green space and gathering places; creating visual interest and improving public access to the borough building and library. It would likely be a much less ambitious project without the involvement of the Swarthmore Centennial Foundation, with whose support a repaving of the Dartmouth Avenue parking lot became a re-imagining of the way people will experience Swarthmore.

We’ll write more about the Central Park project as we near the start of construction in spring. For now, let’s consider the Centennial Foundation itself, for which Central Park is just the latest in a series of civic undertakings it has funded completely or in part. In 1993, Centennial Park was created at the northwest corner of Park and Dartmouth avenues to commemorate the borough’s 100th anniversary. Four years later, the foundation funded the bell canopy above Borough Hall’s front doors. An anonymous bequest to the foundation allowed for the purchase, cultivation and maintenance of the land for Gateway Park at Route 320 and Baltimore Pike in 2003, and in 2007 the town clock and plaza were installed at Station Square.

The Centennial Foundation was established in 1992 by Ed Jones, with major support from Guy Smith and Bill Cumby, and Eck Gerner serving as treasurer. (All four are former mayors of Swarthmore.) Thirteen Swarthmore residents were original trustees of the foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing “for the betterment of Swarthmore, the improvement of the Community, its children, and its citizens, both during the 1993 Centennial Year, and for all generations to come.”

“The Foundation has always worked hard to insure that every borough citizen feels a part of every project,” Eck Gerner said. Private fundraising from residents has contributed to each of its projects thus far. In the case of Central Park, participation is easy: pavers, available in two sizes, can be purchased and inscribed with a dedication or other message from the donor. They can be ordered through January 31, and will be installed in the plaza during construction. A 12”x16” inch grey stone costs $500; a 4.5”x9” red brick is $150. Hundreds of Swarthmoreans and friends supported the Town Clock project in this way.

“Our ‘kitty’ will need a while to recover from the Central Park expense,” said Foundation trustee emeritus Margie Baker. “That’s why donations and paver purchases are so important. Memorial gifts are always welcome, and in fact there are some prominent places in Central Park that would be ideal for bronze plaques. Also, the amphitheater can be ‘named’ in connection with a matching donation.”

In addition to major construction projects, the Centennial Foundation has contributed to existing programs — for example, the DARE program at Swarthmore-Rutledge School and the successful Hoops Renaissance effort to install new basketball courts at SRS. It also funds the $6,000 scholarship presented every July 4th to a graduating Strath Haven High School student from Swarthmore.

Certainly, Central Park requires most of the Centennial Foundation’s resources and attention right now, but the group continues to be receptive to requests and suggestions for projects.

The Foundation has been well supported by donations of time and talent from Swarthmoreans (and others) with specific skills and resources needed in the planning and execution of projects.

The Foundation has a full board of trustees at the moment, but encourages those interested in future board membership to send a note and resume to Foundation chair Guy Smith at P.O. Box 493, Swarthmore, PA 19081.

In addition to the founders and Margie Baker, board members include Rich Cresson, Bobby Dawes, Bob Dawes, Maurice Eldridge, Monica Kruse, Sharon Mester, Beth Murray and Frank Sherry.

Past and pending Centennial Foundation projects are described in detail at swarthmorefoundation.org. Paver purchases and donations can be made at the site using Paypal or credit cards.

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