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Gift of $5.5 Million Will Renovate Laboratory Nursery School

Poughkeepsie, NY — Giving to Vassar College has always been a pleasure for Mary Lee Lowe Dayton '46, a former trustee and active alumna who remains tuned in to the needs of her beloved campus. Dayton's generosity has repeatedly enabled the college to move forward with much needed improvements to buildings and programs, as well as consistently supporting the Annual Fund. When Dayton's daughter – alumna and current Vassar trustee Sally Dayton Clement '71 – learned of a new campus improvement project, she recognized a perfect fit between donor and alma mater, and her mother couldn't be happier.

A Child Study major who graduated after three years under an accelerated program (necessitated by WW II), the elder Dayton spent a lot of time in one particular Vassar building: Wimpfheimer Nursery School. Dayton found her love of teaching at Wimpfheimer, and fondly recalls both the "inspirational faculty" and, of course, "the wonderful children" with whom she spent her time. But Wimpfheimer is now nearly 80 years old, and needs important upgrades and repairs to maintain its effectiveness as a learning laboratory for Vassar students. Thanks to her new $5.5 million gift to return Wimpfheimer to its former glory, Mary Lee Lowe Dayton is again giving back to her college, to show appreciation for what a historic facility has provided generations of Vassar students.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to give directly to renovate Wimpfheimer Nursery School. Who else but a former student who experienced the building, who got her start as a teacher there, would understand its potential?" noted the retired teacher. "This opportunity also came at a time when I wanted to honor Frances Fergusson and all of her wonderful years as Vassar's president. This seemed a perfect way to say thank you to her and the College," added Mrs. Dayton.

President Fergusson will retire after twenty years in office on June 30, 2006, with president-elect Catharine B. Hill, currently the Provost at Williams College, taking the helm July 1.

Since 1927, the Mildred R. Wimpfheimer Nursery School on the Vassar campus has played a key role in the study of early childhood education. As a laboratory school, it has blended theory, research, and practice to create and promote optimal early childhood programs, and much of what is considered best practice in the field had it roots at Wimpfheimer. Today, over 170 education students – many from neighboring colleges – take advantage of Wimpfheimer programs each year.

Named for a Vassar graduate whose textile manufacturer father donated the money to create the building, Wimpfheimer opened as a handsome gray stone building in the style of the English manor house. Architecturally designed as a nursery school, the physical structure and furnishings support child-centered exploration and learning. As a laboratory school, it is as an important "primary source" for both Vassar students and faculty, who enter the child's world by entering the school.

With the infusion of construction and programmatic funds, the Wimpfheimer Nursery School will have enhanced research capabilities, improved teaching resources, and an enhanced learning environment for students and teachers alike. Improved capacities will include a new audiovisual system, to allow lessons and other teacher-student interactions to be videotaped and later used as a training tool for new teachers. The system will also enable Vassar students to more effectively track the development of individual children they're working with, and to enhance the learning environment for the child.

This major project will also address several aspects of the facility's physical structure. In addition to keeping Wimpfheimer in compliance with building codes, the renovation will include air conditioning systems, as well as refurbished plumbing, roofing and interior painting – all components for which time has taken its toll. Renovations at Wimpfheimer are expected to begin within a year.

"Mary Lee's name is synonymous with generosity here at Vassar," said William Plapinger '74, chair-elect of the college's Board of Trustees. "The legacy of her many gifts over the years is only equaled by the legacy of her wonderful family," he added. In addition to her daughter, a granddaughter, Katherine Lee Sturgis, '04 and a grandson, Winston Clement '09 follow Mary Lee's footsteps at Vassar. Dayton has been a life-long resident of the Minneapolis-area.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Thursday, June 22, 2006