Financial History 144 Winter 2023 | Page 27

Courtesy of James Russell Kelly
In 1992 , Bill Ruane and his colleagues at the Carmel Hill Fund identified the Dunlevy Milbank Center of the Children ’ s Aid Society , located on West 118th Street in Harlem , as their project partner in the “ Adopt a Block ” program .
“ Bill was a member of the board and traveled from New York for each meeting . We held the board meetings in my home in Omaha informally discussing all sorts of issues long into the night . It was the most enjoyable board experience I have ever had .”
Don Graham , chairman of the Graham Holdings Company , previously of the Washington Post , recalls in an interview Ruane ’ s contributions as a member of the board of directors of the Washington Post . “ Bill was very slow and analytical . He explained issues step by step in long conversations , always making a firm recommendation . He demonstrated the highest levels of character , integrity and judgment .”
As an example , Graham cited the company ’ s involvement in bidding for speculative cell phone licenses in 1981 . “ We won the license for Miami and shared the license in Washington , DC and Detroit . In Washington , DC , we were approached by our co-winner to manage the license on our behalf . I consulted with Bill Ruane , who , after considerable research , recommended turning the offer down , saying that it could result in significant damage to the company . Very few directors would give such candid advice .”
Greg Steinmetz , an author and former journalist , is a 20-year veteran of the firm . He remembers that Ruane liked to do his research in a quiet environment away from the distractions at the firm ’ s office . He maintained a separate office in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel , located on 59th Street across from the firm ’ s office at the GM Building , in New York City .
Lili Ruane recalls that her father was very health-conscious , always walking back and forth to work each day from the family ’ s apartment at Fifth Avenue and 94th Street to his office at the GM building , across from the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street . She also recalls that he was very disciplined in his diet . His only indulgence was Rheingold beer , a popular brand of that era .
The Carmel Hill Project
Ruane ’ s commitment to philanthropy became evident during the later years of his life . He was determined to address the problem of racial inequality boldly . Nicholas Lehman ’ s best-selling book , The Promised Land : The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America ( 1991 ), had a profound impact on him . “ As a teenager , he visited his cousin in Baton
Rouge , Louisiana each summer where he witnessed several lynchings ,” recalls his daughter , Paige . During his college years , he had worked as a mentor in an East Harlem Boy ’ s Club . He created the Carmel Hill Fund in 1986 to address economic inequality and racial injustice . It provided educational , mental health and social service efforts to directly assist low-income families in Harlem .
In Terry Quinn ’ s Renewing a Block in Harlem , Ruane states that “ my idea was simple … it wasn ’ t to throw a lot of money at a complex problem … it involved a low-cost leveraging of resources — medical , housing , social service that have been out there for years . The idea was , basically , find a concentration of families in need , stabilize the block by connecting clients and available services . Then , if the model worked , we ’ d replicate it .” In other words , adopt a block .
In 1992 , Ruane and his colleagues identified the Dunlevy Milbank Center of the Children ’ s Aid Society , located on West 118th Street , as their partner in this project . The facility had a 75-yard swimming pool , two immense playgrounds , computer classrooms , daycare facilities and a mental health services department . Ruane declared , “ This is what I want for the rest of the block starting with apartment buildings 27 and 29 . I want to make this block shine .”
These two city-owned brownstones were directly across the street and housed many senior citizens and families in disadvantaged circumstances . The goal of the Carmel Hill Project was to address the needs of the occupants of these buildings through casework , training in selfsufficiency skills , advocacy with city agencies and formation of tenant ’ s groups and a block association . The next step was to expand the project to other buildings on the block starting with building 69 . In 1995 , the city ’ s Housing Preservation and Development Department ( HPD ) announced a new Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program and selected the three Carmel Hill buildings for a complete reconstruction of each apartment .
The essential element in the plan ’ s success was hiring Ann Hamm , a social worker at the Children ’ s Aid Society . She worked tirelessly with the residents , advocating for them with the HPD and other agencies . She accomplished all of Carmel Hill ’ s goals for the residents of these buildings within the first four years . In the following
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