For George Bernstein ’64, Alan Bernstein ’59, and Daniel Bernstein ’55, support for Sidwell Friends is vital to the story of their lives.
In 2016 Head of School Bryan Garman called up former Sidwell Friends Board of Trustees member George Bernstein ’64 and shared that the School may have the opportunity to buy the Upton Street parcel of property, which would give the School nearly all of the contiguous acreage on the Wisconsin Avenue campus. “It was a no-brainer as far as we were concerned,” recalls Bernstein, who along with his two brothers, Daniel Bernstein ’55 and Alan Bernstein ’59, supports Sidwell Friends through the Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust. “To be able to get that property, and to be able to end this two-campus division that has existed since 1965, it was just an opportunity that couldn’t be allowed to pass.” The brothers immediately contributed $1 million to support the purchase of the land and building for the new Upper School. Five years later, now that the School officially owns the Upton property, the Bernsteins generously gave another $1 million gift for the renovation of the soon-to-be Upper School.
Theirs is the kind of response that the School hopes to continue to inspire among the whole community through the Sidwell Friends Challenge, a one-to-one fundraising effort with a goal of reaching $20 million for the Upper School renovation, as inspired by the two historic $10 million gifts made by two anonymous donors last fall. “We are grateful for the ongoing commitment and generosity of the School community, which will provide Sidwell Friends the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to unify the School,” says Tara Arras, the chief advancement officer at Sidwell Friends.
For the Bernsteins, however, philanthropy to the School is not just based on circumstance; it’s a vital part of the story of their lives dating back to the 1940s. “That’s a pretty substantial timeframe in which our family has been connected to Sidwell,” says George Bernstein, “and all three of us loved our experience.” For his part, Bernstein says Sidwell Friends gave him a superior foundation in writing and research, skills that were critical to his work as a history professor at Tulane University for more than 35 years. Sidwell Friends also gave him meaningful, lifelong relationships. “I really have more Sidwell friends than I have college friends,” he says. What’s more, the Bernstein brothers’ parents inculcated a “culture in the family in which you support your school.” He says a scholarship to the University of Chicago in the 1920s transformed his father’s life. “Certainly, it was communicated to me that you support your school,” George Bernstein says, “and that it’s our job to do so.”
As a result, he, along with his two brothers, started giving to Sidwell Friends in college and never stopped. “Then you come to the Lurcy Trust,” says Bernstein. “My father had set up a particular giving profile for the trust that reflected his own interests, which were overwhelmingly intellectual and academic.” So, in the 1990s, when the stock market began to take off, the Bernstein brothers, now Lurcy trustees, decided to formalize their individual giving. First, they established the Edith and Edward Bernstein Scholarship Fund in 1995 in honor of their parents; the fund provides financial aid for talented Upper School students. The trio then created the Edith and Edward Bernstein Family Fund for Faculty Development in 1999 to advance professional development and curriculum enhancement. In 2001, the brothers then endowed the School’s Frank Barger Faculty Chair to recognize distinguished teaching in mathematics at the Middle School.
“Something that I came to really identify” after joining the Board in 2000, Bernstein says, “is the importance of Sidwell Friends’ identity as a Quaker school in terms of shaping values.” As a member of the School’s Board, Bernstein was struck by how much importance current parents place on the ethics and values Sidwell Friends teaches in addition to its educational mission.
Those institutional values include a commitment to diversity that the Bernsteins wholeheartedly support. In fact, Alan Bernstein came up with the idea to raise money for a chair in honor of his former Spanish teacher, Señora Supervía, in a way that would also connect more broadly to students of Latin American background. So, in 2017, Alan, with the support of Dan and George, challenged the community to create the Señora Guillermina Medrano de Supervía Endowed Chair for Spanish and Latin American Studies—making a $300,000 gift through the Trust in 2020. (The $1.2 million chair is now fully funded.) The Bernsteins also gave $100,000 to the African and African American Studies Endowed Faculty Chair in 2021.
At the moment, George Bernstein is especially excited about Garman’s long-term vision of a unified campus—but his support of the School will always find expression somewhere. “Each time you make these gifts, it does cement a little more of your sense of commitment to the School,” he says—that and his friendships. “People disperse; none of us remained in Washington, and yet we’re good friends with our Sidwell friends, and that’s quite remarkable. That has been central to our sense of identity with the School.”