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The Commercial Appeal
December 9, 2004

Anonymous donor is a champion at East High

By Stephen D. Price
December 9, 2004

The man's voice sounded distant and deep from the receiver as the East High School principal spoke with him on her office phone.

 He wouldn't give his name, he told principal Barbara King. And he didn't want to talk to a reporter.

But the man, who's given almost $100,000 to East High over the last four years, did have something to say.

"He said he believes in feeding the need," said King, relaying the message.

The only hints to the anonymous donor's identity are that he graduated from East High in the 1950s and attended Vanderbilt and Harvard.

"He chooses to be anonymous because he wants the students to get the attention, not him," said Patti Smith, spokeswoman for the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, the agency that handles his donations.

And the students need it.

East High, 3206 Poplar, is among the state's weakest schools, facing takeover if it doesn't improve test scores.

The school's needs are numerous -- such as its auditorium, in such bad shape students aren't allowed to use it.

In 2002, students and parents protested the school's mold problem.

And with a $168,000 school budget, and $121,000 going to buy textbooks, the school's buying power is limited.

Earlier this year the donor asked King for her short-term wish list.

"He said send me a list of what you want," she said.

So she did. Her list included $4,500 for the school's yearbook, $12,000 to pay for trips for the school's Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) class, $7,000 for athletic uniforms and $4,000 for athletic equipment.

In November, the school received a $41,000 check -- enough to cover everything King had asked for.

"A grant like this is a Godsend," King said. "The donor has been a blessing and an inspiration to our faculty and students."

The donor also paid $37,000 for the electronic sign at the front of the school that relays scrolling messages about upcoming events or games.

More of East High's needs may soon be met by a group of local business leaders and East High alumni, called the Greater East High Foundation, who are launching an ambitious effort to raise $3 million for the school.

Despite its challenges, King said there is plenty of pride at East, an optional school that focuses on health sciences and engineering.

"We want our kids to graduate and be productive citizens."


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