When David Farace, president and Head of School, learned that a member of the Bolles School faculty had donated a half a million dollars to the school he did a double-take.
“He said, ‘Can you say that again? That’s never happened to me before.’” recalled Cathy Stupski.
A San Jose resident and long-time kindergarten teacher on the Bolles Lower School campus in Ponte Vedra, Stupski is the first, and, so far only, faculty member to ever make a six-figure donation to the school. She stunned Farace as well as many of her Bolles colleagues – several of whom cheered and cried upon hearing the news – when she announced last spring a gift of $500,000 to honor her late husband, Karl, who died of a sudden heart attack on August 3, 2015.
Stupski’s donation is earmarked to serve as early-stage funding for a new 10,800-square-foot multipurpose gymnasium on the Bolles Lower School Ponte Vedra campus. Included in the new building will be a basketball court, bleachers, a stage for school performances, restrooms, and proximity to the school’s existing athletic fields. The building is planned to be built where the tennis courts now reside, which will be easy to view from her classroom window.
Her generosity has inspired the entire Bolles community in its approach to giving, said KC Cassell, Bolles’ Chief Advancement Officer. “What Cathy has done is the classic goodwill that leads others to be inspired,” he said.
One set of parents, who did not know Stupski personally and wish to remain anonymous, were so touched by her generosity, that they decided to give $1 million towards the project, said Cassell.
Stupski learned of the massive anonymous donation when Farace asked her to read a mysterious note to her colleagues during a pre-planning faculty meeting. “It was a nice note from the donor, who had children go through the school. Because of my gift, they decided to exceed my gift and give to the school in order to get this project launched. The note didn’t have an amount, so when Mr. Farace asked me if I wanted to know how much, I said yes,” Stupski said.
The response was balloons, confetti, tears and applause as a video flashed $1 million, a photo of the Ponte Vedra campus and renderings of the new gymnasium, said Bolles Director of Communications Jan Olson.
Stupski was inspired to give such a sizeable amount after receiving a commemorative plaque from her husband’s employer two months after his death. “I took the plaque home and showed it to my kids. They said, ‘Mom, you ought to do something with it.’ I told them I was going to put it on the mantel, and they said ‘no, Mom, you really ought to do something with it.”
What Cathy has done is the classic goodwill
that leads others to be inspired.
— KC Cassell, Bolles’ Chief Advancement Officer
Stupski thought briefly of donating to Florida State University where her husband had earned his degree in finance and accounting. “Florida State could have gotten something from me, but they had just gotten $100 million for the new business school, and I figured my little contribution wouldn’t be much,” she said, referring to a recent donation from the late Jim Moran’s family and the Jim Moran Foundation. The largest donation in FSU history, the money is slated to create the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship.
Prior to teaching at Bolles, Stupski served for 12 years as preschool instructor at Southside United Methodist Church in San Marco. After her sons, Eric and Matthew, enrolled in Bolles Lower School on its Whitehurst campus, she worked as a substitute for two years at Bolles before being offered a permanent job on the Ponte Vedra campus in 2005. Thinking back on the fun her sons had attending basketball games, sock hops and pep rallies in the gym during their Whitehurst days, Stupski came up with the idea to build a similar structure in Ponte Vedra.
“Standing in my classroom, I realized I wanted to give the money to Bolles for a gym because we don’t have one,” she said. “I came up with a figure and told my children. They said, ‘Really, Mom?’ But it was my money, and I did it because I felt I needed to give back. I just know I will reap the benefits ten-fold and maybe even a hundred-fold. It will maybe give somebody a job and a lot of joy to children coming up in the school,” she said, adding she plans to put the plaque in the lobby once it’s built.
Building a gym is a fitting way to memorialize her husband because he worked out his problems on the treadmill at Epping Forest Yacht and Country Club, and often coached basketball at the YMCA, Stupski said. “In actuality, initially I thought I was paying for the whole thing. I had no clue,” she said. “My husband would look at me like I’m crazy (if he knew), but then he would say ‘okay, I’m a true believer that if things are meant to be they will happen,’” she said. “This is happening so it’s meant to be. I think my husband has approved of it because it’s coming together. I just hope I don’t have to retire before it comes to be.”
Conservatively the school needs an additional $500,000 to $700,000 before it can feel “comfortable” going ahead with the project, said Cassell. “That’s ensuring we can do it absolutely the way Cathy and others have wished it,” he said. “The good news is we’ve got a really enthusiastic group of parents and alumni in the community, and we’re set to launch a series of gatherings and receptions to add onto our momentum.”