The Countess Rumford. (Photo courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society.)

The Countess Rumford. (Photo courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society.)

The countess who cared

The Rolfe and Rumford Fund is Sarah Thompson's legacy — and is still giving kids access to quality child care, mentoring, music lessons and more

Once upon a time, there was a countess.

No kidding. That’s really how this story starts.

We’re going back some time now. To 1774.

Before the countess was a countess, she was Sarah Thompson, born before New Hampshire was a state and before the United States was a country. She lived in Concord (then called “Rumford.”) The countess’ mom, Sarah Walker Rolfe, had married Benjamin Thompson and the future countess was their only child. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Benjamin boated it to Europe (he had been tight with the Royal governor, making him less than popular with those looking to throw off the yoke of England). Benjamin stayed overseas doing fascinating things that earned him acclaim (and some notoriety) and the title “Count of the Holy Roman Empire.” He took “Rumford” as his noble title.

His daughter inherited both his title and the family estate on Hall Street in Concord.

The Countess Rumford never married, and she never had children.

When she died, in 1852, she left her estate “to a charitable purpose, namely the forming and maintaining of an institution for the poor and needy, particularly young females without mothers…bearing the name of the Rolfe and Rumford Asylum.” The “asylum” (later renamed the “Rolfe and Rumford Home”) stayed in operation for 129 years.

Fast-forward to 2009. The once-bustling home for girls had fewer and fewer residents — the pendulum in child protective services had swung away from sending girls to group homes in favor of sending them to foster care.

The board of directors of the home was faced with the difficult decision to close it down.

“Despair,” was how board member Paul Provost described that moment. “It was a very emotional time.”

They were committed to continuing the legacy of the Countess, and the good work that the home had done for so long. After exploring a range of options, they decided to convert the remaining assets of the home to a donor-advised fund at the Charitable Foundation “to benefit children and young adults of Merrimack County with particular emphasis on programs and services that serve the needy.” The board of directors of the home became the fund’s advisors. Grants started going out the door the same year.

By 2015, the Rolfe and Rumford Donor-advised Fund had surpassed the $1-million mark in grantmaking.
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By 2015, the Rolfe and Rumford Donor-advised Fund had surpassed the $1-million mark in grantmaking. The fund is poised to help young people in Merrimack County in perpetuity.

“We needed to conserve our resources to be able to do a greater good,” said Judith Ransmeier of Concord, who was chair of the home’s board and now serves as a fund advisor.

Grants have gone to the Boys and Girls Club, Merrimack Valley Day Care Services and the Concord Family YMCA, the Friends Program, Girls, Inc., the Concord Community Music School and more — providing early childhood education, sending needy kids to summer camp, connecting kids with mentors, helping educate young parents, helping girls understand their own power and potential.

“If the countess was at the table,” Provost believes, “she would have approved.”

Two Rolfe and Rumford scholarship funds were also established for students from Concord and Merrimack County. Those funds have so far paid more than $60,000 in college tuition for kids in need.

The fund’s advisors know that the Rolfe and Rumford Fund will be there to address problems – perhaps unimagined today – that kids might face in the future.

“I don’t know” what those issues might be, said Provost, who also serves on the Foundation’s Capital Region Advisory Board, “but the fund will be there.”

Thousands of kids are being helped by the fund every year, and thousands more will be helped in the future.

“If the Rolfe and Rumford Fund is helping to give those kids a step up in life,” Provost said, “then that makes Concord a richer, deeper and more enjoyable place.”

 

Stories of impact

At Merrimack Valley Day Care Services, toddlers are getting ready to play outside, infants are sleeping and playing and being fed, three-year-olds are rollicking the rhythm instruments they made from pasta and recycled bottles. The 250 kids in the five Merrimack Valley locations are getting all-day care from qualified teachers in this licensed-plus facility. Three-quarters of the families whose children attend qualify for subsidies to help cover the cost of care.

“The Rolfe and Rumford funding has helped us be able to stay affordable,” said executive director Mary Jane Wallner. Raising tuition means that struggling families “don’t come, or buy less-expensive, unlicensed, unregulated” care for their children. Funding has helped the center meet state standards, pay for teacher training and staff development and buy supplies. Wallner said she is sorry that the home is no longer there. But, she said, “I think it makes perfect sense that they would use the funds that way.”

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At the Concord Community Music School, Rolfe and Rumford funding has helped meet the mission of “total access” to music instruction.  The fund makes it possible for 60 preschoolers at Merrimack Valley Day Care to get free “Music and Movement” classes with an early childhood educator from the Music School. Kids have joined the school’s “Purple Finches” chorus, taken voice and piano and cello lessons with help from the fund. With connection to music has come connection to community, to a network of mentors and of greater possibilities. One student went from believing his family could not afford voice lessons to representing New Hampshire at the All National Honors Choir in Nashville. And his Music School mentors point him in the direction of opportunity as he gets ready for college.

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At the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Concord, kids are streaming in from school. They’re coming for homework help, and basketball, and art. In the kitchen, a pizza dinner is being prepared – which families will sit down to together, thanks to a partnership between the club and the New Hampshire Food Bank. Through the Club, kids get to go hiking, and to museums, and summer camp, and to visit college campuses. Rolfe and Rumford funding helped the Club – which serves 700 kids at eight sites every week – weather the recession. And it has helped the club open new locations where need is acute. The fund is giving kids in need access to opportunity and helping them meet their full potential.