Having it Both Ways: Allen Fischer '59 and Renate Belville
Sometimes you can have it both ways—you can give and receive," Allen Fischer '59 wrote to his classmates in a 1995 fundraising letter for Haverford. At the time, he was the deferred class giving representative whose charge was to extol the virtues of bequests and tax-advantaged giving options. Several things about that letter stand out: first, it foreshadowed Allen's own future giving to the College. Second, in the years since he held that role, one area of philanthropy has evolved and now is known as "gift planning." Finally and importantly, he continues to write with a certain ease, an engaging style that reveals his way with words.
Fischer, a birthright Quaker, grew up in an altruistic setting in suburban Philadelphia. Both parents were committed to sharing their time and resources with various Quaker-oriented causes. "That put me in the context of doing something similar," Allen recalls. Today, he and his wife, Renate Belville, who live in Saugerties and New Paltz, New York, make many of their charitable giving decisions together. "It's a partnership," he explains. Although Allen and Renate have no children of their own, they care deeply about the next generation and have chosen Haverford as one of their philanthropic priorities.
For Allen, going to Haverford was somewhat "logical," having attended Germantown Friends School (GFS). He also was drawn to the College for its close proximity to and relationship with Bryn Mawr College, as well as its outstanding academics, which included an engineering program. Allen thought initially that he would join his father in the family business, a machine tool factory. "I took several engineering courses but discovered that wasn't for me," Allen recalls. "I think one of the many reasons you go to school is to find out who you are, where you are, and what's appropriate for you." He wanted to become a poet, but in terms of making a living, that was not economically feasible. He opted for a major in political science and "studied like hell," played soccer, and along the way became lifelong friends with David Kain '59, with whom he still talks every few weeks. Looking back on his experience at Haverford, he says, "It turned out beautifully." Later, he attended Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and served in the U.S. Army.
Renate was born and lived in Japan until age 10 when her German parents were repatriated to Hamburg. There, she attended high school and subsequently the University of Hamburg, from which she graduated with an MA equivalent in Volkswirtschaft (political economy) and a minor in industrial sociology. Now she too is committed to Haverford, "because Allen loves Haverford and I see how much it has meant to him and what it has done for him," she says. "Among the alumni, there's a cohesiveness, a community feeling, that continues, which is wonderful." These observations and Allen's own experience have created trust in the College. For that reason, they decided that their gifts to Haverford would be unrestricted.
The first of those gifts was a bequest established in 2002, followed by yearly annual membership in The 1833 Society (for donors giving $1,833 or more yearly). Then, in retirement, the couple found that after most of their needs had been addressed, some modest assets became available for charitable giving.
Renate's work had been primarily in health services research at the Department of Community Medicine of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, where she and a colleague established the Office of Applied Social Research. "Computers had just come onto the scene but were used only for billing purposes. With access to visit data we were able to describe for the first time demographics and utilization patterns of the Mount Sinai patient population to guide hospital policy."
Allen's professional life started off in marketing/advertising. When two friends who had a small travel agency that catered to the business community decided to expand the business, they recruited him. Together they built the company from $3 million to nearly $45 million in accounts. One of their clients was BEA Associates, founded by John Hurford ‘60. "He became my right-hand advisor when it came to general investment strategy," Allen recalls. It was John who suggested an incremental approach to charitable giving. This concept was helpful to Allen and Renate, when, in 2013 during a meeting with Olga Briker, senior associate director of gift planning at the College, they learned of an additional option for supporting Haverford—through a charitable gift annuity.
With a charitable gift annuity, or CGA, a partially tax-deductible gift is made to Haverford from which a portion of the income goes back to the donor as annuity payments for life. Upon the donor's death, the remainder transfers to Haverford. Renate remembers, "We knew we wanted to give more to Haverford, but we didn't know in what way, and Olga really helped us make the decision." Allen adds that when he parts with a large sum, "I have to live with it for a while and let the reduction in assets settle in before I'm ready to take the next step." The CGA was particularly appealing because it enabled them to make an outright gift that also benefits them. The result was positive enough that the initial CGA became the first of now three, incrementally given. And it may not be the last. "We would like to continue this and take it out as far as our capacity will allow," Allen says. "We want to have students benefit from the gift," Renate adds. "But times and the economy change, and you never know where the money is needed most. So we leave it up to the College. If you trust an institution, you trust that it'll find the right place for the gift."
Today, the couple enjoys their current stage of life and remains in touch with Olga. "We consider her a friend and a colleague," Allen says. "When I retired, in a sense, I unretired. I moved from one desk to another and really got rolling where I wanted to be, which is poetry," Allen explains. He began writing in high school at GFS, under the guidance of his teacher (and Haverford alum) David Mallory '45. Then, in his freshman year of college, Allen slipped a poem under the office door of English professor Jack Lester '37. Early the next morning, Professor Lester came knocking at Allen's dorm room. "He had the poem in his hand, and he said, ‘Allen, I had no idea.' He suggested submitting it to the Haverford-Bryn Mawr Review." This was Allen's first of hundreds of published poems in journals nationwide that at include Poetry, Greensboro Review, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, and several anthologies, among others. He has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. "My writing is not an intellectual process but more meditative. Words and ideas just come to me."
While Allen continues to write and to be published at the tender age of 79, Renate since retirement has taken up studying French and attending water color classes at the Woodstock School of Art. "Work played such a big role and took up so much space in my life," she observes, "that it's important when you retire to have a passion to pursue." And though she feels it is beneficial to have interests separate from one another, this couple maintains a strong partnership in giving and in life.
Sometimes you really can have it both ways.