“I was stunned, just stunned.” That’s how Monique Pryor, assistant vice president for planned giving at NJIT, describes her reaction when she learned that NJIT would receive a bequest of about $5 million from the estate of the late NJIT alumnus John Hartmann and his wife Helen, both formerly of Cedar Grove.“They were such kind, modest people who had an exceptional bond with NJIT,” Pryor says. “They were also very much concerned about today’s students and wanted their bequest used to help students challenged by having to work to continue their education. John wanted these young people to have it easier than he did when he was their age.”
Not until the will was read did Pryor have any idea of the magnitude of the couple’s wealth. “They lived in a small house,” said Pryor. “They didn’t drive fancy cars or wear expensive clothing. They were simply dedicated NJIT alums, like many of our grads, who every year contributed regularly to the NJIT Annual Fund. Although they had set up small gift annuities to NJIT’s 1881 Society, their average donation to the NJIT Annual Fund had been $25 a year for more than 30 years.” The couple had actually stopped giving even this amount, eight years before Pryor came to work at NJIT.
Hartmann had graduated in 1951from NJIT’s predecessor institution, Newark College of Engineering (NCE), with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering. He then earned a master’s degree again in 1961 from NCE. He worked for many years as an engineer for the former RCA (now SRI International) in Princeton. Like many other Americans of his generation, Hartmann, a World War II veteran, had served in the U.S. Merchant Marine. And like numerous fellow veterans, enrolling in NCE after the war opened the door to a fulfilling career and materially comfortable life.
But sadly, toward the end of his life, John Hartmann became ill to the point of requiring care in a nursing home. One day, a perfunctory call from Pryor to thank the Hartmanns for their contributions evolved to her surprise into an emotional conversation with Helen. Pryor learned of the extent of John’s illness and Helen, now 90, who had no family to turn to, began confiding in Pryor.
“This is not an unusual situation for a development officer,” Pryor explained. “Many of our donors do age and we end up developing a kinship, from having known them for a long time.” A relationship blossomed between the two women, with Helen often discussing the stress and uncertainty that she faced given her husband’s condition and Pryor offering advice about services and agencies to might assist. Such calls were made several times throughout the year during and after John’s illness.
In November of 2010, John Hartmann passed away. Not long after his death, Helen called Pryor to say that she wanted to do something really nice for the school. “It was a gift of $600,000 in memory of John. I hardly knew what to say to thank her,” said Pryor. It was only then that Pryor began to realize the depth of the couple’s feelings and relationship with NJIT.
Following this news, Pryor planned to meet Helen in person in the spring of 2011 to express appreciation on behalf of NJIT. But the chance never came. Instead one day only five months following John’s death she called Helen only to learn of Helen’s passing. It was not long later, that Pryor was stunned to receive the news that the Hartmanns had willed virtually their entire $5 million estate to NJIT.
Today, almost a year later, Pryor still in a bit of shock, says she can finally think back on the events, with a little less emotion and more clarity with the possibility to the ever-lingering question: How did it all come about?
“I think the gift went back to a conversation Helen and I had while John was still alive,” she said. “We discussed how meaningful it was for the couple to feel that by giving this money to NJIT it was a way of giving back to people who had given them so much. It made the couple feel good to know their money was going to live on by helping the university grow and, in turn, helping other young people achieve just as much, if not more, than John Hartmann had done both in his professional career and private life.”