Summer camp for the kids at Burlington's Boys and Girls Club began Monday with a series of speeches delivered by men in suits. The campers plucked clover in Roosevelt Park as the politicians and philanthropists offered inspirational advice.
Arguably the best-dressed and indisputably the oldest of the men in suits was 96-year-old Tony Pomerleau, who was there to dole out something more concrete to the Club: $1 million.
To put that in perspective: According to GuideStar, the Club recorded $1.4 million in revenue in 2012— most of which came from grants and donations. The gift, to be paid in installments over the next decade, is the largest in the club's history, according to its executive director, Mary Alice MacKenzie.
"If Tony Pomerleau didn't give one more gift in his life he would go down in history as one of the most generous Vermonters this state has ever seen," MacKenzie said. "But he hasn't stopped and we are very very lucky that he has believed that what we are doing with our education program is worthy of a very very big gift from him."
Campers check out the first round of Pomerleau College Scholarships — $2,000 checks awarded to seven rising freshmen.
The contribution will support Early Promise, an academic program to help children go to college, and it will fund individual scholarships for participating students.
Signs of Pomerleau's largesse are already plastered around the city — his name appears above at the police station, and the YMCA was renamed after him last year, after he gave them $1 million. The Boys and Girls Club is following suit, renaming itself "The Pomerleau Family Boys and Girls Club."
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, Representative Peter Welch and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger joined Pomerleau and his son, Ernie, and others to mark the occasion. They heaped praise upon Pomerleau and urged the children in the audience to dream big. "You can be anything you want to be," Leahy said, leaning over the stage to make eye contact with campers sitting in front.
Like the president of the United States, Pomerleau had his own personal umbrella-holder, who stood beside him before the event began. But despite all the attention, the real estate magnate and philanthropist downplayed the event. He used his time at the podium to poke fun at Welch and Leahy, both of whom wore baseball caps for theirshade — "I remember a long, long time ago, they both had hair." (Leahy's wife, Marcelle, is Pomerleau's niece.)
And handing over an envelope with first of ten installments to MacKenzie, Pomerleau joked, "Hey Alice, you wanna cash this check right away before it bounces."
His words of wisdom to the kids? "It's easy. If you make a little money, you become real popular."