Former student leaves $50K donation to Sunderland Elementary

  • Sunderland Elementary School. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • DEMARA

Staff Writer
Published: 6/21/2022 3:38:34 PM
Modified: 6/21/2022 3:38:15 PM

SUNDERLAND — Even after his death in August 2021, Edwin Demara has found a way to give back to the school community that welcomed him many decades ago.

At June 14’s Sunderland Elementary School Committee meeting, the committee voted to accept a $50,000 donation from Demara, which was administered by the Mary Lyon Foundation, a Buckland-based nonprofit that supports education in Franklin County. Demara died in August 2021 at the age of 71 after a two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer, according to his obituary.

“My brother was big into education, that was one of his things,” said Barbara Goodhind, Demara’s older sister. “He was a very smart, interesting guy. He kept a lot to himself and he never bragged.”

Demara began first grade at Sunderland Elementary School in 1956 and then moved on to Frontier Regional School before receiving bachelor’s degrees in microbiology at Boston University and engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. A lifelong learner, Goodhind said her brother’s interest was sparked by his teachers in elementary and high school.

“We had great teachers. I think that’s why he gave to the library and certainly to the grammar school because of his experience he had,” she said. “I can’t say enough about him. He was a really great guy and a really great student.”

An engineer with Northrop Grumman Corporation in California and with Hamilton Sundstrand in Connecticut, Goodhind described her brother as a “real Renaissance man” who had his professional and educational interests, but also dabbled in fishing, mycology, photography, landscaping and all sorts of other hobbies.

“He was always doing something,” she said. “Just a real neat guy.”

The $50,000 donation must be used for the purchase of equipment, technology, books or other supplies that can be used to directly enhance the learning of students, and cannot be used for budget relief, tax support, lobbying, salaries or other grants, according to the Mary Lyon Foundation.

“This is something he set up prior to his passing,” Superintendent Darius Modestow said. “It’s nice to know that his wish was to get this money to us.”

School Committee member Gregory Gottschalk called the donation “exceedingly generous” and thanked Demara’s family.

“It’s hard to find the money you need,” he said. “Here’s something that says, ‘Spend it on something for the kids.’”

Sunderland Elementary School Principal Ben Barshefsky said staff are assembling a team over the summer to determine how the money will be spent. School Committee member Keith McFarland requested the money be used “in a way to affect as many students as possible.”

“There will be a process, it won’t be wheeling and dealing,” Barshefsky said. “We’ll come up with a definite plan.”

Barshefsky wrote in an email that he has not heard of a donation this size given to Sunderland Elementary before.

“Mr. Demara’s generosity will directly have a positive impact on the students at Sunderland Elementary School for years to come,” he wrote. “Whatever route we decide to go, we will make sure as many students are impacted as possible.”

On top of the donation to Sunderland Elementary, Demara also donated $10,000 to the Friends of the Sunderland Public Library and created an annual $3,000 scholarship fund for low-income students at Frontier Regional School.

He also donated money to the Mary Lyon Foundation.

“It was quite generous, so we’re super grateful,” said Library Director Katherine Umstot. “Supporting the Friends, the funds could go toward special programs, technology for the library and materials.”

Goodhind said the scholarship fund was a “marvelous” gift to the community and she hopes her brother’s generosity will inspire others to give back to the schools as well.

“Ed was very thoughtful in that respect,” she said. “He was amazing and died way too soon. My sister and I miss him something terrible.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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