Sage Colleges get $10 million gift

russell sage college campus croppedThe Sage Colleges announced today that an alumna -- Donna Esteves '70 -- is giving the school $10 million. It's the biggest gift in school history -- bigger even than the gift from Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage that helped found the college.

The school says it will use the money to renovations projects, as well as build the college's endowment. And, as usually when someone donates a bunch of money to a school, Sage is naming its school of education after Esteves.

So how did Esteves end up in a position to drop this sort of coin on her alma mater?

From the Sage press release:

When a teacher hiring freeze prompted Esteves to change careers, she spent a lucrative stint selling Mary Kay cosmetics - at one point reaching #19 in the country in sales - and then formulated a business idea based on her husband Richard's enterprise retrofitting homes to conserve energy. She surmised that those at home during the day - mostly mothers of young children and older women- would be more comfortable letting a woman into their home than a man. She capitalized on her female-centric business experience with Mary Kay and her women's college education at Russell Sage and started her own company, Free Lighting Corp., employing women to install energy-efficient lighting in homes. She sent individuals instead of large crews so they could complete jobs in under an hour and seven to 10 installations a day instead of one or two. Her business grew into the largest energy conservation contractor of its kind in the U.S. She sold the business in 2001 ...

This is Esteves' second major gift to the school -- she donated $1.5 million in 2010.

About Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage...

As mentioned above, the school says Esteves' gift is larger than the founding donation from Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage. So how much was that? Sage's Jamie Tario tells us Olivia Sage donated $500,000 in 1916 to found the Russell Sage College (named in honor of her departed husband) -- an amount the school figures would be worth about $7 million in today's dollars.

Olivia Sage herself is an interesting story. She was born in Syracuse and graduated from a precursor of the Emma Willard School in Troy. She was a teacher for 20 years, and married Russell Sage at the age of 41. She was involved in the suffrage movement and was an "advocate for the rights of women and the responsibilities of wealth, for moral reform and material betterment." When Russell Sage died, he left Olivia an enormous fortune -- she was the richest woman in the United States. She proceeded to become quite the philanthropist, with an emphasis on education, donating to schools such as Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Vassar, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Syracuse, RPI, and of course, Russell Sage College.

Russell Sage College campus photo: Flickr user Dougtone


SchoolS. The Sage Colleges is a group, not a single thing -- it's a group of three colleges, a plural. (The alumnae of Russell Sage really hate when that gets mixed up, 'cause it's like people are trying to forget the founding college of the group and the fact that all three Sage colleges are separate entities.)

As Shakespeare said, "A thousand thanks..........and more."

On a tour of RPI I was told another fun fact about Olivia Sage, or I should say about Russell Sage. He apparently hated 3 things: philanthropy, higher education, and women's rights. So when he died, she gave away his money to found a women's college with his name on it. Sweet, sweet, revenge. :-)

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