The Biggest Philanthropist You’ve Never Heard Of
Adrienne Arsht learned to give while growing up in Wilmington. She may call a triumvirate of large Eastern cities her home now—if the relentless traveler can be said to have a home at all—but she can never leave Delaware behind.
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Arsht and O'Connor met in Washington in 1981 when Arsht was married to Myer “Mike” Feldman, former counsel to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Twenty-eight years her senior, he died in 2007.
O’Connor says that though Arsht would throw great parties full of interesting people, her favorite gatherings were those when Arsht would invite a group of women over on a Saturday to have dinner and spend the night. “She’d have bathrobes for everyone to put on, and we’d sit around and talk until the wee hours,” O’Connor says.
The art of socializing began early. Arsht grew up celebrating birthdays at the Hotel du Pont. (Her father’s office was on the third floor.) She remembers everyone singing and clapping and walking through the Green Room.
She stays there when she comes back to visit. She walks through the same ballroom, checks out the Caesar Rodney statue in Rodney Square, and strolls the gardens of Nemours in Rockland.
She counts her parents as her biggest influences. Both S. Samuel Arsht and Roxana Cannon Arsht were lawyers—her mother the fifth woman to pass the Delaware bar and the first female judge in the state. Twenty-five years later, after attending Mount Holyoke College and Villanova Law School, Adrienne would become only the 11th woman to be accepted to the Delaware bar.
Adrienne inherited more than a love for the law from her parents. Samuel and Roxana were devoted to Delaware, donating $2 million to develop the Academy of Lifelong Learning on the University of Delaware’s Wilmington campus, where Arsht Hall stands as a reminder of their gift. They also gave generously to Tower Hill School and Winterthur Museum.
After Roxana passed, the Arsht-Cannon Fund was created in 2002 through the Delaware Community Foundation, which is aimed at supporting Delaware programs through research partnerships and funding. Under Adrienne's direction, the fund last May gave $300,000 to start the Nemours BrightStart! Dyslexia Initiative in Delaware, an early education and screening program. It also helped fund the first Restorative Justice conference in Delaware, where experts and community leaders discussed how to work together to help victims of violent crimes move forward.
Over the past six years, the Arsht-Cannon Fund has given $4.5 million to non-profit agencies in Delaware, $2 million of which have gone specifically to the programs focused on the needs of Hispanic families.
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