Hamilton’s Town-Gown Fund Surpasses $1 Million in Grants
In the town-gown equation, Fran Alteri is town — the third generation of his family to operate Alteri’s Restaurant in the heart of the village of Clinton. As a high school kid, he was a regular at Hamilton hockey and football games. Now he loves to chat with alumni who stop by the restaurant to share memories of his late parents and the old days.
When Alteri was asked a few years ago to serve on the Hamilton College Town-Gown Committee, he was eager to accept. “It’s so important to help out, right? Anything we can do to give back and help our community and help our college, whatever we can do, we should be doing. To the next generation, it’s important,” he says.
The histories of the village, the town, and the College are closely linked, and our successes are mutually dependent.
The committee’s primary charge is to oversee and distribute the Town-Gown Fund, established in 2001 by two anonymous donors to foster goodwill and communication among the College, the town, and the village. The committee works to ensure that the endowment prospers to provide ongoing — and increasing — community support.
The fund reached a milestone in 2021 — $1 million in gifts and grants to aid the work of nonprofits and public-service agencies in a town that has been entwined with the College pretty much from their beginnings.
Some 230 years ago, Moses Foote, who founded the village of Clinton, joined dozens of local residents in pledging land, materials, labor, and money to establish the Hamilton-Oneida Academy. The school, conceived by the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, for whom the town is named, had the support of President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Nineteen years later, in 1812, the academy was rechartered as Hamilton College.
“The histories of the village, the town, and the College are closely linked, and our successes are mutually dependent,” says Hamilton President David Wippman. “Today, Hamilton has become one of the most highly regarded liberal arts colleges in the country, and Clinton has become one of America’s most charming and desirable small towns, with an outstanding school district, an active business community, and an attractive quality of life.”
In addition to the Town-Gown Fund, Hamilton contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to support village and town services through a municipal contributions agreement, which was initiated in 2006 and extended over the years. Through 2021, the College’s contributions via the agreement will total $7.4 million divided among the village, town, Clinton school district, and Oneida County. The school district receives roughly 60 percent of the money.
The town and the College have one another’s backs, observes Kirkland Town Supervisor Bob Meelan. “Hamilton needs the town; the town needs the College. I love having Hamilton here. I love having the kids in town. There’s nothing to be gained from being like the Hatfields and McCoys,” Meelan says.
Students from Hamilton volunteer in local nonprofit organizations, shop in local stores, and dine in local restaurants, as do their visiting families and alumni. In dollars and cents, the impact of the College ripples across the region. A 2019 economic impact study estimated the local and “spillover” impact of visitors to Hamilton at $20.5 million. Hamilton’s total regional and statewide economic impact was $325.5 million, according to a study by the Center for Governmental Research for the Commission on Independent Colleges & Universities in New York. That same study estimated the College’s overall employment, direct and spillover, at 1,790 jobs.
The Hamilton Town-Gown Committee typically focuses its grants on education, for instance awarding money to the local school district and public library, but its members heed the community’s other needs, too. In 2021, when the continuing pandemic created hardship for local families, the committee responded with two grants totaling $10,000 for the food pantry, money that was sorely needed, Alteri says.
The volunteer Clinton Fire Department, which serves the village and town, received a $20,000 grant in May 2021 for critical new emergency communications equipment. The department was forced to obtain the costly new equipment when Oneida County upgraded its communications system, Fire Chief Brad Dunda explains. “The generosity of the Town-Gown Fund has made it possible for us to purchase equipment that normally we wouldn’t be able to afford through our regular budget. We would have had to cut back in other areas to get certain pieces of equipment. So yeah, this has been great — a wonderful thing for us,” says Dunda, who works part-time at Hamilton as a campus security officer.
Also included in the most recent round of grants — $20,000 for the Kirkland Arts Center’s capital campaign, which is the first major campaign in the history of the organization, says Jennifer Potter Hayes K’73, who chairs the effort. The $300,000 campaign is ambitious for the small organization, she says.
“We suggested that if the Town-Gown Fund could make this bigger grant to us — the $20,000 — that we would then use that to leverage our board to match it. And they did,” she says. “That was also a huge leap for our board. People really stretched, so it just shows how much a gift like that, what a difference that can make, what a big impact we can have.”
A Clinton native, Potter Hayes is a blend of town and gown with a bias that tends toward gown, she admits. Besides attending Kirkland, she previously worked at Hamilton in the Registrar’s Office and Alumni Office, and her father, the late Donald Potter, was a highly regarded professor of geology. Over the years, Potter Hayes says, she’s seen the relationship evolve and improve between the community and Hamilton, starting during the tenure of President Eugene Tobin, who served in that role from 1993 to 2003.
She’s also seen community appreciation grow for the College on the Hill. “I think there’s a better understanding now about where Hamilton stands in the academic world, as an institution of excellence, and so now I think there’s pride. I think there hadn’t maybe been an understanding of how incredible Hamilton is, and now I think there is a tremendous sense of pride of having that institution in this town,” she says.
Alteri anticipates more good things to happen in the community thanks to the growing Town-Gown Fund support for organizations that help the town thrive. “The people on the board are phenomenal,” he said. “They have an interest in Hamilton and an interest in the town, which is what you want. I think it’s going to be great going forward. It’s going to be even better.”