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Rectory Alumni Awards

2020 Distinguished Service Award: Carl and Mike Kempner ‘70
Presented by Fred Williams, Head of School
Solid Ground: Honoring Carl and Mike Kempner ‘70 for their Half-Century Stewardship of Rectory School

Like father, like son. That is the phrase that comes to mind when thinking about Carl and Mike Kempner. Across five decades, this duo has served Rectory School in the most distinguished of ways, and Rectory is honored to formally recognize their support as we present them Rectory’s Distinguished Service Award. The contributions of Carl, who receives the award posthumously, his wife Doris, and Mike, Rectory Class of ‘70, qualify the Kempners as one of Rectory’s first families. It is a family that includes numerous Rectory alumni from several branches of the family, but it all started with Carl and Mike.

In 1968, a somewhat hesitant Mike Kempner joined the Rectory School sixth grade. Just as young Mike quickly settled into life on campus, so, too, did his father agree to Rectory’s invitation to join the Rectory School Board of Trustees, where, among other traits, his financial acumen and investment skills were highly desired. This began a relationship that transcended four heads of school and continues to contribute to great success for Rectory.

Mr. Carl Kempner understood well the economics of independent schools, and his leadership on the Board of Trustees, where he served as chairman for eight years, resulted in the establishment of numerous endowed funds, including the Hettinger Fund, that now comprises a significant portion of Rectory’s investments. Mr. Kempner’s support in growing our endowment was visionary and essential in securing the solid financial foundation we enjoy today. He would, I expect, be thrilled to hear that the seeds he helped plant decades ago have grown to over $21 million today.

Additionally, Carl Kempner’s leadership helped construct Colhoun Gymnasium, which remains one of Rectory’s most iconic buildings. Well after Mike departed Rectory in 1970, Mr. Kempner remained a leader on the board and in our community, generously supporting Rectory initiatives and encouraging others to do so as well. As former Headmaster John Green wrote in a letter to Mr. Kempner, “Friends like you, who give unstintingly of themselves and ask nothing in return, are few and far between, which is why our association with you over the years has been a great privilege.”

I never had the pleasure of meeting Carl Kempner, but his son, Michael, that young sixth-grader, who went on to Choate and then Harvard, was there to greet me when I was fortunate enough to be offered the head of school position at Rectory. Just as Carl was a key figure in John Green’s hire and transition, so, too, was Mike there to aid my entry to Rectory. Mike, himself a success in the financial world, clearly had the best attributes of his father well ingrained in his own life’s work.

Mike joined the Rectory Board of Trustees in 2005 and served eight years, retiring in 2013. During that span, Mike chaired the Committee on Trustees, while also serving on the Development and Finance Committees. Throughout his tenure, in addition to helping me acclimate to my current role, Mike refinanced the school’s bond, gaining a much more favorable rate in the process, he developed Rectory’s campus master plan, and he played an active role in completing a successful phase one of our Campaign for a Century. This last effort included supporting renovations to Grosvenor House, Rectory’s oldest and most treasured property, with the headmaster’s lounge subsequently named in honor of the Kempner Family.

We did not let Mike go easily, though, and his service to Rectory continues to this day, particularly when we find ourselves in New York. Mike is a connector and seems to know everyone in the city. Understanding this, Mike was asked to stay on the Committee on Trustees as a non-voting member so that he could continue to be an ambassador for our school.

The Kempners have done great things for Rectory School, but we would be remiss in suggesting Rectory has been the only beneficiary of the Kempner wisdom and volunteerism. After Rectory, Carl went on to serve as a trustee of Choate Rosemary Hall, serving as treasurer and as chairman of the Investment Committee. Additionally, he was on the Committee of University Resources at Harvard, and he founded and headed the Presidents Council and established the Kempner Distinguished Professorships at Purchase College. Mike serves on the board and is treasurer for the Cancer Research and Treatment Fund, which across its lifetime has donated over $15 million to battle cancer. Mike also serves as treasurer at De La Salle Academy, a Grades 6-8 middle school for economically less advantaged boys in New York City. He also remains active at Harvard serving on the commencement committee and participating on the acquisition committee for the Harvard Art Museum.

Carl and Mike Kempner have been sought out by so many worthy causes across their lifetimes, and they have served their institutions so graciously. How fortunate Rectory is to be one of those institutions, and how appreciative we are of all this father-son duo, and the rest of the Kempner family, have done for Rectory. Congratulations and thank you to Carl and Mike Kempner.

  • 2020
  • Distinguished Service

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