Merlin Packard '50 Gives Back to Haverford
Merlin Packard '50 first set foot on the Haverford College campus on the first day of his freshman year. "I packed a suitcase and took a train from Boston to the Paoli local," he remembers. He'd applied on the advice of the dean of students at Andover who thought Merlin would like the school and on that of his friend William Lee '46, who'd been a classmate of Merlin's at Andover before Haverford.
Merlin settled into campus life without difficulty and joined The Glee Club, which "meant a lot" to him. Junior and senior year, he lived in "a four-man suite in 5th Entry" even though it had been designed for three. "The College got larger after [World War II], so the dorms were quite full," he explains. The Quaker traditions he was exposed to on campus had an effect on him too. Though raised Episcopalian (his father was a pastor), his maternal great-grandfather was originally a birthright Quaker, and Merlin felt that peace witness was a strong influence. With the War not far in the past, he found himself moving toward pacifism.
In the academic sphere, Merlin came to admire English professor William Lunt, who he says, "could be a little intimidating, but he was a delightful man and devoted to his students." Merlin also studied foreign languages at Haverford, including Russian, Greek, and German, which was his favorite. He fondly remembers Harry Pfund and recalls, "Having a chance to study German poetry was a great treat for me." Developing his expertise in German literature, culture, and language over four years would come to be an important influence in his early career. Upon graduating, he served in the federal government in Washington, D.C. and was eventually stationed in Munich for seven years.
But he came to realize the work did not really suit him ("I didn't want to be a 40-year government man"), and upon returning to the U.S., he settled in New York City. There, he took graduate courses at Columbia in Russian as well as Byzantine and Medieval Studies. But, he says, "Although I enjoyed living in New York very much, I had the feeling it wasn't the place where I wanted to grow old." After eight years in Manhattan, he was presented with an opportunity to return to Washington, and he took it. He spent the rest of his career in Georgetown as the librarian at Dumbarton Oaks, a Harvard University-administered research library collection specializing in Byzantine, garden and landscape, and pre-Columbian studies.
No stranger to rare books, Merlin personally acquired a number of unique volumes that interested him. Then, in fall 2010, Merlin read a story in Haverford magazine about Magill Library's Special Collections. The article inspired him to donate nearly a dozen bibliographic rarities of his own—dating from the 15th to 20th centuries—to the College. The oldest of the volumes, a 1497 theological text by Lactantius, is an incunable (printed between 1450 and 1500, soon after movable type was invented) and especially rare. Among his other contributions was a copy of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, a rare and historically significant set. Now, students can use Merlin's books in their research for the Senior Thesis (not required during his tenure at the College) and other academic papers. "I liked that the students would have real things to look at," he says of these gifts. Merlin has been generous to Haverford in other ways as well. For fifteen years he served as a member of the Corporation, and in addition to making Haverford a beneficiary in his will, he established a charitable gift annuity (CGA) in 2001.
A CGA is a simple gift option that allows a Haverford alumnus/a, parent, or friend to make a tax-deductible contribution to the College and receive quarterly annuity payments for life. The remaining principal becomes a deferred gift to Haverford. "The CGA was a way that I could give something that I could afford. At the time I couldn't have just given away the money, but getting some income from my gift made it possible." In addition, Merlin regularly contributes to the College's Annual Fund. "The CGA was an affordable way to make a gift of assets. The Annual Fund is something you do out of your regular income," Merlin explains of his ability to do both.
While fine-tuning the details of the CGA with Hogie Hansen, vice president for institutional advancement at the time, Merlin considered having the remainder of the gift support buildings and grounds, but he ultimately decided to leave it unrestricted. "I understand the need for flexibility. You can't tell what the situation is going to be 25 years from now." There is no doubt for Merlin, though, that Haverford will always be worth supporting. "The Quaker influence is so important, and the Honor Code is a very good thing."
Today, Merlin enjoys his retirement in the nation's capital, reading as much as ever (including, not too long ago, Rilke in the original German). He used to return to Dumbarton Oaks for their annual symposium, where he would often see Walter Kaegi '59, who conducted research there when Merlin still worked as librarian.
He has been in touch with David Herman '50 as well, thanks to Olga Briker in Haverford's Office of Gift Planning, who helped reconnect the two classmates. He's also returned to Haverford for reunions and other events, and has enjoyed walking around the campus.
"Most of us owe a great deal to people who have gone before us—or with us—who have done a great deal," he says of his motivation for making Haverford one of his principal charitable priorities. "It seems to me that one has a moral obligation, to the extent that one can, to support the institutions that one believes in and has found helpful. Haverford is one of the best colleges you can attend.