Editorial: Leaving lasting legacies

  • The Emily Dickinson Museum is on Main Street in Amherst. Amherst College alum, the late William McCall Vickery, has left $25 million to the college. Of that total, $22 million is earmarked toward helping preserve the museum. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 6/11/2019 7:00:21 PM

Lasting legacies can come in many forms — well-to-do benefactors who make a financial donation to a cause or institution, leaders who are remembered for the way they inspire others, and every day folks whose qualities others want to emulate.

The Gazette often writes about these legacy builders in our midst, and this spring has been no exception. Over the last few weeks, the paper has featured three late Valley residents for their generosity and the legacies they are leaving behind.

Among those are William McCall Vickery, who died in February at the age of 83. The Amherst College alum, Class of 1957, donated a whopping $25 million to his alma matter, with $22 million earmarked toward helping preserve a home-grown treasure in Amherst — the museum and estate of famed poet Emily Dickinson.

A week earlier, we reported on a $1 million gift left to Holyoke Community College by the late author Elaine Nicpon Marieb. The Northampton native’s donation will boost support for nontraditional students at the two-year institution.

And finally, in the non-monetary category, we told the story of Edward Belt, a geologist who taught at Amherst College for nearly four decades. Best known for his teaching and mentoring of young people, Belt’s legacy now lives on at the college’s Beneski Museum of Natural History, where a diorama depicting Amherst 190 million years ago is now named after him.

In different ways, all three have raised the bar about what it means to make a lasting contribution to the lives of others.

Vickery’s $25 million gift to the Amherst College endowment is by far the largest the museum has received. All but $3 million will be used to maintain and improve the Emily Dickinson Museum, which the college has owned since 2003, and the Homestead, where Emily Dickinson lived and composed her poetry, since 1965. The remaining $3 million will be used for maintenance of the pianos in the college’s music department.


Marieb, who died last December at 82, was a best-selling textbook author raised in Northampton and a graduate of many of the area’s institutions of higher education. A nontraditional student herself, Marieb’s donation to HCC will support programs for generations of students who are typically older than traditional undergraduate students.

A longtime donor to HCC, Marieb had earlier given more than $1.5 million to the school where she had earned a nursing degree and taught biology for 24 years. In 2014, Marieb gave a $1 million gift toward construction of HCC’s Center for Health Education and Center for Life Sciences.

Then there’s Belt, who loved geology, teaching and mentoring young people. As one friend described, Belt, who died in March at 85, was “kindly in the good old-fashioned sense of the word.”

Belt began teaching at Amherst College in 1966, becoming a full professor in 1978. He taught sedimentology, invertebrate paleontology and geomorphology until he retired in 2002, mentored countless students and was director of the Pratt Museum of Natural History — which later became the Beneski Museum — for 15 years.

The generosity of all three individuals should not be overlooked — and through their contributions, it won’t be. Whether it’s a tourist or area resident perusing any of the 7,000 items in the Emily Dickinson Museum, an older college student getting a leg up at HCC, or visiting one of the largest natural history museums around, the legacies left by these three people will continue for years.

Our community owes them a debt of gratitude.


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