04: The Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund

“What good is the money?” Horace asked in the “Meet Mr. Miracle-Gro” documentary. “You know, I got all the money I need.” He also felt his children had all the money they needed, and throwing money around on extravagant expenditures made little sense. “But to spend this money helping people, doing things that the government can’t do—not won’t, but can’t do—is what we’re working for now.”

Amy had seen an ad in the New York Times that led them to a significant player in Long Island philanthropy, the Long Island Community Foundation, a division of New York Community Trust. “I pointed out to him, ‘Look at this, Horace. Look what you can do with your charitable money,’ ” Amy recalled. “He held onto it. It was at least three years old, starting to get yellow.”

With the merger money available and the Long Island Community Foundation on his mind, Horace had a conversation with Suzy Sonenberg, its executive director. Sonenberg recalled that he told her about the Scotts deal and his desire to do some charitable giving. They met that same day, and Sonenberg was stunned to learn that the fund Horace wanted to set up at the community foundation would be about $40 million—its largest.

“When you give the money, you get your charitable deduction for the entire amount,” Sonenberg said. “Then the money is invested, and you can set up any one of a variety of different kinds of funds. What Amy and Horace set up was a donor-advised fund, which means that they can suggest grants to be made from the fund, and unless there’s some very compelling reason for the trust not to make the grant, they make it.”

Suddenly, the former Amelia Maiello, working hard to feed four children, was helping to decide how $40 million could make life better for people on Long Island. “It was transformative,” she said. “I became another person.” But the core of that person remained unchanged: someone who had known struggle and now could use that personal knowledge and Hagedorn wealth to help others through life’s rough patches.

First Horace, then later Amy, joined the board of the Long Island Community Foundation. “Horace talked about his interest in being on the board, and I said that would be great,” Sonenberg said. “I’m not going to pretend that was easy. Horace was a man who was used to getting his way and was the power player in the room, in terms of money. Nobody else had a fund as big as his. There were people who had probably as much money, but didn’t use it the same way.”

Just as Horace and Amy had different histories and mindsets, they had different approaches to philanthropy. “I guess I was thinking more of systems change,” Amy said, “and he was thinking more about helping poor people, soup kitchens, direct service.” Still, they decided together where the money would go, and Amy would balance her teaching with handling some of the requirements of the fund, like setting up site visits to grantees.

Then Horace became ill, and Amy needed help. So Sonenberg suggested that a young man she had hired, Darren Sandow, could help. “Amy had to spend more time taking care of him, and she just couldn’t keep up,” Sandow recalled. “You figure, if they’re making 120 grants just outright, and then countless other approaches to them, and Amy doing it all alone, that’s a lot.” So he began doing double duty, at the Long Island Community Foundation and helping the Hagedorns with their fund. “I would finish up the day and then I would head over to the Hagedorns’,” Sandow said. “I really got to know them personally, because I was in their home at night, after work.”

The relationship of Sandow and Amy grew in the process of trying to persuade Horace to accept her thinking on grants. “We became a really good tag team, and a tag team for good,” Sandow said. Those discussions weren’t always easy, given the sharply different philosophies.

“Amy was refined in her thinking, so careful about how she thought about things,” Susan Hagedorn said. “My father was a much more traditional philanthropist. I don’t think he was a philanthropist, actually, until much later in his life. He did not identify as a philanthropist. He always used this expression: A gift is supposed to look good, feel good, do good. Making him look good was part of where he came from. Amy just held him to a much higher standard. To his great credit, he was moved—and moved to be a really stellar philanthropist at the end.”

Susan recalls a struggle between Nassau County and a coalition fighting for funding for families, and Horace the conservative, Horace the hard-charging businessman, used his marketing genius to help. “Pop did the public relations campaign, and they had all these posters, all over everywhere, in train stations,” Susan recalled. The campaign didn’t even pause when her daughter Hope got married. “Everyone at Hope’s wedding is wearing one of these great big buttons that Pop has pasted on everybody. Every picture has this button on it.”

That transformation couldn’t have happened without Amy. “She moved him to become a community organizer,” Susan said. “Who would have thought that?”

Though Horace still preferred more tangible giving to grants for societal change, Amy had helped to broaden his horizons. Sandow said he and the Hagedorns learned a lot about philanthropy from Suzy Sonenberg at the Long Island Community Foundation. “We kind of came to understand how philanthropy could be used differently,” Sandow said. “I think that was the beauty of the relationship that we developed over the years, is that we all grew up together in philanthropy.”

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