Barbara Spencer Initiates Westbrook Foundation

The Westbrook Foundation was formed in 1984 with a modest donation from Barbara Spencer. Following the death of her father, Elliot Spencer, a gifted businessman and investor, Barbara decided to establish a scholarship in his memory for a Westbrook High School senior. Instead of a one time scholarship, Barbara was counseled by civic leaders and friends, to form a foundation which would be able to help students on a yearly basis by investing a principal amount and using the growth on those investments towards the scholarship. Barbara passed away in 1993 and bequeathed a sizeable portion of her estate to the residents of Westbrook. Using Barbara’s bequest and the generous donations of many others, the Westbrook Foundation has distributed over a million dollars in scholarships and grants for the betterment of the lives of Westbrook’s students and citizens.

Barbara Spencer was born and raised in Westbrook and lived in the family home on Seaside Avenue until she left to attend college in Florida. Upon graduation, Barbara returned home to Connecticut and started a teaching career in Norwalk. Not long after that, Barbara came to Westbrook to continue teaching at the elementary school. When her father passed away in the early 1980’s, Barbara wished to honor her father’s memory and decided on giving a scholarship in his name to a deserving high school senior. Barbara took the advice of Judd Carr, the Essex attorney who had set up the Essex Foundation, and decided to establish a foundation instead of a stand-alone scholarship. At this point, Barbara started looking to friends and town leaders for help.

The foundation would need a board to oversee the funds and their distribution, so Barbara went to the town hall to see her old friends, Judith Lowe, the Town’s Tax Collector, and Don Morrison, the First Selectman. She presented her idea and asked if they would help by serving on the board. They readily agreed as did longtime friend, Ed Binder. The final two members of the original board were Alberta Woodstock and Mike Wells. An initial donation of $20,000.00 was placed in the Foundation to be invested and the interest was given as a scholarship in Barbara’s father’s memory. In these early years, the Foundation met once a year to go over the finances and to determine who would receive the scholarship.

Then, in 1993, Barbara passed away. In her will, she left a considerable amount of money to the Westbrook Foundation to add to her initial investment. Now the Foundation’s mission statement was changed in accordance with Barbara’s will to read “The objective of the Westbrook Foundation Inc. is to distribute available funds in a manner calculated to bring the greatest possible benefit to the residents of Westbrook.”

To achieve the goal of the Foundation’s new mission, the board of directors grew to nine persons who now meet nine times each year. The number of scholarships expanded and the Foundation also established a grant program to provide funds to worthy, non-profit organizations whose efforts benefit Westbrook residents. The purpose of the grant awards is to provide “seed money for new services” and/or “funds to fill the needs [of Westbrook residents] which are not met by any other organization or source. The scholarships are provided to high school seniors and other graduates continuing their education in the springs of each year. The grant awards are made twice a year, in April and October, and are distributed based on available funds and the degree to which the request meets the goal of the mission statement.

Barbara’s legacy is not the end of the Westbrook Foundation’s continuing story. Since her generous beginnings, other donors have approached the Foundation to establish memorial scholarships or to contribute to the efforts of the Foundation and its established programs of scholarship, grants and charitable giving. Some examples of our other memorial scholarships are the Henry Ortner Scholarship, established for students entering engineering, science or nursing and the Marie Mazeau Scholarship, established in memory of Marie for a high school student who excels in the mentor program with elementary school students. Also, a recently established scholarship program for students, young and old, who are continuing their education beyond high school as a career enhancement, career change or just beneficial post-secondary education, was made possible by a substantial bequest from the Messerschmidt family. With its history of prudent management and dedicated volunteer board members, the Westbrook Foundation continues to serve additional donors each year with discretion and professionalism.

We invite you to explore our website for more information and details about the services the Foundation provides and ways that you could join with past donors and become a part of Westbrook Foundation history.