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Financial Aid, Historic Clothier Hall Boosted by $20 Million Gift

By Sherri Kimmel


Gil Kemp remarks on the joys of giving at the Board of Managers meeting in February. Photo by Laurence Kesterson

The College made another huge “leap forward in the capital campaign that will support Strategic Directions [the strategic plan],” President Rebecca Chopp announced Feb. 23 during a morning meeting of the Board of Managers.

That leap came courtesy of Board Chairman Giles “Gil” Kemp ’72 and his wife Barbara Guss Kemp—who donated $20 million to the College, bringing their lifetime total to more than $33 million. As Gil Kemp articulated, “the core tenet [of the gift] is financial aid. That resonated with me.”

Besides the $8 million benefiting the Kemp Global Scholars, a cohort of scholarships to support students from the United States and abroad based on financial need and interest in global leadership, $7 million will bring “Clothier, our iconic building, into the 21st century,” Gil Kemp said. Major renovations will ensure that “we can have more of an intentional community,” he explained.

Gesturing to Eugene Lang ’38, who announced his own $50 million gift at the December Board meeting, Gil Kemp explained that the longtime Swarthmore benefactor has been his role model as a philanthropist.

Gil Kemp then explained that he needed to answer four questions before making his gift.

“Are we [the College] doing important work? Important relative to what?” Swarthmore is helping to create leaders, so that condition was satisfied, he said.

The next question he pondered was, “Will the money be well spent?” Senior leadership was making sure that “we are well managed. As a donor, I have confidence that the money will be well spent,” Gil Kemp said.


Clothier Hall will receive a major facelift as a result of the Kemps’ gift.

Third, he asked, “Will our gift have meaning?” The importance of shoring up financial aid and transforming Clothier meets that condition.

Last, he wondered, “Does it feel good [to give]? It feels terrific,” he said with a big smile. “This was a top-10 day for Barbara and me.”

Barbara Kemp, in her remarks to the Board, noted that her husband talks about the need to stretch and added that she felt “mighty proud” to do so. A retired Manhattan prosecutor who was once in charge of federally funded community crime reduction programs, she has a long history of philanthropic and civic work.

Gil Kemp has been a Board member for nine years, chairing the College’s Annual Fund for three years and serving as chair of the Board’s development and communications committee. He also was chair of the Strategic Planning Council, which led an 18-month direction-setting process and produced Strategic Directions.

A Scarsdale, N.Y., resident who graduated with honors in sociology and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, Gil Kemp founded Home Decorators Collection, one of the nation’s leading direct sellers of home furnishings and accessories. The Home Depot purchased the company in 2006.

The Kemps’ previous gifts funded a residence hall, named for his grandfather, David Kemp; an endowed professorship in the natural sciences, named for his father, Dr. Walter Kemp; West House, the home of the vice president for development and alumni relations, named in honor of former Vice President Dan West and his wife, Sidney; and men’s and women’s locker rooms, given in honor of his former cross-country coach, Joe Stefanowicz. Gil Kemp still holds the College’s outdoor mile record of 4:15.5, which he set in 1970.

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