University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Silver gift advances Alumni House and Billings

Photograph by Sally McCay


Silver gift advances Alumni House and Billings

The story behind Jack Silver’s decision to donate $5 million to the University of Vermont began when he arrived on campus in the fall of 1960. “The university prepared me to identify with the feeling of wanting to be the best I can be—up till then that was not how I felt,” Silver told a gathering of UVM supporters at an evening reception at his New York City home. “My wife and I realize how grateful and thankful we are to make this gift possible.’’

Silver’s $5 million gift will ensure the restoration of two Victorian-era buildings on the UVM campus, while also expanding scholarly research and programs for alumni. The commitment, which ranks among UVM’s largest donations in recent years, supports improvements to the Billings Library and renovations at the planned Alumni House.

“This generous gift places us on track to finish two of my highest strategic investment priorities—the renovation and restoration of two architectural masterpieces, the Billings Library and the future Alumni House on Summit Street,’’ said President Tom Sullivan, who announced the gift at the May 28 reception sponsored by the University of Vermont Foundation.

“Upgrading these iconic buildings will dramatically enhance UVM’s exceptional learning environment, boosting our reputation in the decades to come,’’ Sullivan said. “Jack and Shirley’s gift will transform Billings, the gemstone of the campus designed by H.H. Richardson, into a new home for the University’s Special Collections Library, which will be renamed the Jack and Shirley Silver Special Collections Library.

“Billings will become a new intellectual focal point, with much of the historic interior remaining open to the public. In its new and expanded location, the Silver Special Collections Library will continue to build a national reputation as a repository for historic archives, political and literary papers, rare books, and photographs,’’ Sullivan said. “Significantly, Billings will also become the home for two academic centers essential to our scholarly DNA—the Carolyn and Leonard Miller Center for Holocaust Studies and the Center for Research on Vermont.”

The Silvers’ gift will benefit scholars far beyond the Burlington campus according to Mara Saule, dean of University Libraries. “We anticipate a vibrant research library, where patrons can work with rare books, photographs, manuscripts, maps and other archival collections,’’ Saule said. “At the same time, we’ll be using a state of the art digitization facility to make these materials available around the world. With Special Collections in Billings, we can ensure that UVM’s most historically significant research collections are accessible to current generations and preserved for many more to come.”

Billings Library was constructed in 1885 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building, Silver said, “is symbolic of the university itself.” The preservation of Special Collections for scholarly work, he continued, “is just one of the reasons I chose to make this gift.”

An investor with an accounting degree from UVM, Silver was attracted by the university’s strategic plan for the future. “I am supporting the dream of the current president, Tom Sullivan, who feels so strongly about the meaning of these two projects,” Silver said. Fundraising efforts for the projects will continue, with other major gifts expected.

Silver sees UVM’s first Alumni House as “a catalyst to bring people together and create a home that people can come back to.” The Alumni House’s pavilion will be named the Jack and Shirley Silver Pavilion.

The Alumni House will be home to a variety of programs that reinforce UVM graduates’ lifelong relationship with the institution, from hosting educational, cultural, and artistic activities to offering rooms to gather in for social and reunion activities. It will serve as a first stop for alumni arriving on campus. The facility will also host conferences, weddings, and banquets.

Restoration of the ornate interior of the Queen Anne Revival-style house, once the home of the Delta Psi fraternity and purchased by UVM in 2007, has already begun. The project will be funded entirely by private gifts, with an opening planned for the fall of 2015.

Silver, who will attend his 50th reunion later this year, said he came to UVM in the fall of 1960 unsure about what he wanted to do with his life.

“What happened at the university is I became interested in learning. Since that point in time I have been motivated to achieve,’’ Silver said. “The university was very much a part of that.”

—Rick Green '82

Contact UVM © 2019 The University of Vermont - Burlington, VT 05405 - (802) 656-3131