An interview with Philanthropist Victoria Sanger
I was in tenth grade and looking for something musical to do for the summer. I considered Fontainebleau and the Andover Summer School chamber music program. Then I recalled that my orchestra-mate, Jim Harding (Clarinet ’78–’81), had a way of beaming whenever he talked about this place called Kinhaven. So I decided to go there. It changed my life!
As for many teens, I found high school to be socially challenging. I hadn’t found my group of friends, but Kinhaven showed me how people could be friends and overcome various social challenges, particularly as a musician and a nerd. Kinhaven takes you in right away – the kids, the rustic setting, and the cooking. It really isn’t about equipment and facilities: that’s not what we needed or wanted.
My favorite Kinhaven memory is the singing, particularly learning how to sing madrigals. When Jerry and Nancy Bidlack were away for a week, Adam Grabois taught us The Silver Swan so we could impress them when they got back. That was a nice homage to Jerry. I didn’t listen to rock or pop music; all I knew was classical, so it was fun to be around others who liked that music as well. I also loved the barn dancing – I danced the Salty Dog Rag for years! For the Regatta, our team made a pinwheel contraption out of cardboard and “cows.” It wouldn’t go forward, only in circles. While I was just an okay pianist going in, Kinhaven inspired me to up my game. I still play, but equally important is that Kinhaven awoke my lifelong love of instrumental and vocal chamber music and ensemble work.
My grandfather and his brother, Harold and Percy Uris, founded a successful real estate and construction firm in New York City. In the 1950s they set up a foundation to support institutions they felt had given them and the city so much. After their deaths, the foundation became three foundations, each led by one of my grandfather’s daughters, one being my mother, Linda. We’ve continued supporting institutions the brothers gave to, while others we’ve chosen reflect our engagement in our own fields and communities.
A nice series of events unfolded beginning in 1998, our foundation’s first year, as my mother began training us to be philanthropists. We had funds but no list of people or organizations to give to. About that time I got a fundraising letter from Kinhaven, and David Yang had scrawled a note on it, “Send moolah!” The amateur yet heartfelt tone struck a chord and his timing was perfect. I was reminded of how important Kinhaven had been to me. We’ve supported Kinhaven every year since then.
In 2018, I joined Kinhaven’s board, because after so many years of involvement, it felt like the responsible thing to do. Also, Kinhaven’s board is an opportunity to better understand music nonprofits, an openness that is not always available to philanthropists. Joining this lovely group has been an opportunity to get involved, better understand the institution, its problems and needs, and how it works from the inside.
My hope for Kinhaven is that it remains alive for the long term as a nurturing place for serious musicians. It’s not just a summer camp! Six weeks is a long time for a young person, and that can be a life-changer. It was for me, and I cherish that.
Victoria Sanger is a Kinhaven trustee, associate adjunct professor of architectural history at GSAPP, Columbia University, and vice president of the EHA Foundation.