“It’s a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity”

In honor of its most generous and consistent alumni donor, Sidwell Friends School will name its Athletic Center for David “Sandy” Pearson ’52 during Homecoming festivities this fall. 

Sandy Pearson’s most recent gifts to Sidwell Friends, totaling $5 million, were instrumental in enabling the School to purchase two properties that will enlarge its Wisconsin Avenue campus, allowing the Lower School to move from its longtime location in Bethesda to join the Middle and Upper Schools on a unified “one community” site.   

The unexpected opportunity to acquire the contiguous properties—the Washington Home on Upton Street and the Fannie Mae building at 3939 Wisconsin Avenue—attracted the two largest gifts in the School’s history: $5 million each from Pearson and an anonymous alumnus.

Sandy began making gifts to Sidwell Friends in 1952, his graduation year, and has been giving ever since. “Friends got me into college, specifically Yale,” he says. “I always felt I owed as much to Friends as to Yale. The school was good in my day. Now, with many more students, programs, and facilities, the excellence continues.” 

Recognizing its debt of gratitude to Sandy, the Sidwell Friends Board of Trustees suggested naming the Athletic Center for him, acknowledging the significant role athletics has played in his relationship with the School, both as a student and as an alumnus.

“I played a lot of athletics,” Sandy says about his years from 1st through 12th grades. “Football, basketball, baseball. Later on, more tennis than anything else.” Reminiscing about his era, in the 1940s and ’50s, he mentions a few mentors. “Frank Barger, principal of the Middle School, could be a bit gruff,” he says. “But he ran a boys’ camp in the Poconos and for three summers I served as a tennis counselor. We were close.” Another was Herb LeGrande, who taught math and coached tennis. “He lived in the attic of the old high school building on Wisconsin Avenue,” Sandy says. “He’d string tennis rackets up there. He taught me my backhand.” A third was Pop Wannan. “In those days, he was everything in athletics,” Sandy says. “It’s an honor to have my name alongside Wannan and Kenworthy.”

In 2013, Sandy endowed a chair for Sidwell Friends’ athletic director, ensuring permanent funding for the position. In July 2017, the School’s current David Pearson ’52 Director of Athletics, Anne Renninger, will step down and the newly appointed athletic director, Keith Levinthal, will join the community. “I met Keith recently and was very impressed,” Sandy says. “Keith’s athletic credentials are strong, and he’s a great addition to the School.”

“Sandy’s appreciation for our sense of urgency about purchasing these contiguous properties—and the pair of $5 million gifts—provided the board with the confidence necessary to move forward,” says Head of School Bryan Garman. “It is entirely fitting that the Athletic Center be named in Sandy’s honor as an expression of sincere gratitude for his lifetime of philanthropic leadership.”

Explaining his decision to help purchase the Washington Home and 3939 Wisconsin properties, Sandy says, “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, to get all the campus together.” He also attributes some motivation to his long ties to Washington, which date to the 1880s, when a great-grandfather arrived. Although Sandy has spent his adult life in New York, he still feels connected to the District. “This,” he says, “was a little bit of giving back to Washington itself.”

Sandy also has a personal connection to the Washington Home. “When I was 14 or 15, my grandmother volunteered there,” he says. “When I finished school I walked over and she would give me a ride home.”

At a celebration during Homecoming Weekend, October 14–15, the School will acknowledge Sandy’s 65 years of extraordinary support of the Sidwell Friends community when it unveils the David P. Pearson ’52 Athletic Center. Says Bryan, “Sandy’s name and class year on the Athletic Center will remind us to appreciate Sandy and all alumni who contribute to the School in ways that enrich the lives of the students who follow them.” 

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