Heather Ward is guessing when she suggests that W. Howard Wright, her great-grandfather and founder of Schenectady International Group, wasn’t a warm and fuzzy kind of guy.
However, while Wright may appear stern and austere in the handful of images Ward has of him, she says there’s no doubt of the man’s many fine attributes. Whether it was his brilliant scientific mind or his generosity and philanthropy, Ward thinks Wright was about as good a man as you’ll ever come across.
“He didn’t smile a heckuva whole lot,” said Ward last week, looking at a large portrait of Wright hanging on the wall of the main lobby of Schenectady International headquarters on Balltown Road in Niskayuna. “But he was a smart guy for sure, and I think he was a nice guy. During the Depression, nobody lost their job here. They may have scaled back the hours a bit, but there were no layoffs and that was him. He took care of his employees.”
That kind of spirit and concern for others is still prevalent at Schenectady International, according to Ward, and since 1997 has manifested itself in the work of the Wright Family Foundation.
It was Ward’s aunt, Adeline Graham, who was the first chairwoman of the family-run group, whose mission in part is to “provide funding in support of neighborhood revitalization, jobs and career support, education, and social needs.”
Graham, whose husband, Wallace Graham, was the SI Group CEO and remains chairman of the board, passed away four years ago and was replaced as head of the Wright Family Foundation by Ward.
“She grew up in Schenectady and was very involved philanthropically with the city,” Ward said of her aunt. “She was a member of various boards, including the Boys and Girls Clubs. Those were two very important organizations to my aunt, and she would constantly bring up those groups at our board meetings. She was a great person. Any non-profit could come and talk to her about their needs, and then she would bring that information to the rest of us to discuss potential grants.”
A Niskayuna resident, Graham was also a big fan of Proctors and longtime member of the board. The theater is honoring Graham’s memory by naming their new third-floor renovation space the Adeline Graham Theatrical Training and Innovation Center, or The Addy.
“She was a passionate advocate for Proctors and our education program,” said Proctors CEO Philip Morris. “The Wright Family Foundation made significant contributions toward our capital campaign, and the great thing about Adeline and her family is that they gave their personal attention to all these projects. For some of us, that mattered as much as the money they gave. That kind of involvement led to connections that lead to solutions.”
The Wright Family Foundation was created in 1997 with a large financial gift from the SI Group. Originally Schenectady Varnish when it was formed in 1906 by W. Howard Wright, the company changed its name to Schenectady Chemicals Inc. in 1962.
In 1968, the company added its current headquarters location in Niskayuna to go along with its main manufacturing plant in Rotterdam Junction. The company employs more than 350 people in Schenectady County, and the Wright Family Foundation has handed out 450 grants to charities around the Capital Region totaling $18 million.
Three areas of focus
“We have three very specific areas of focus since I assumed the role of chairman: neighborhood revitalization, jobs and education,” said Ward, whose father is former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Moynihan. “We have also narrowed our focus to Schenectady County. Before we might give to organizations in Albany or Saratoga, but we have made the decision to focus on Schenectady.”
Keeping their focus close to home has worked out just fine for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady.
“We would be a different organization today without Addy and the Wright Family Foundation,” said Shane Bargy, director of the Boys & Girls Club. “We enjoyed having her support for many, many years. She was an incredible person and a real advocate for children in Schenectady.”
Bargy expects the foundation’s support to continue under Ward’s leadership.
“They have helped us take our organization to the next level,” he said. “The support they’ve provided over the years has been wonderful, and I look forward to working with them in the future.”
The Wrights’ contribution is also evident at the Music Haven in Central Park.
“Driven to fund meaningful and lasting change, The Wright Family Foundation has invested in projects that truly elevate our community,” said Mona Golub, a spokeswoman for the Golub Corp. and volunteer artistic director for the Music Haven’s free summer concert series. “Not only did they make a capital contribution to the building of the Agnes Macdonald Music Haven in 1998, but they continue to follow its progress in attracting diverse audiences to the heart of Central Park.”
The work of the Wright Family Foundation has brought a smile to many in the Schenectady area. Perhaps J. Howard Wright himself is looking down at his legacy, and smiling.
“When one of his employees’ home burned down, he sent a whole work crew from the company to help this individual rebuild his home,” said Ward, who grew up on Avon Road in the GE Realty Plot. “We’re a family company, and we feel the employees are also family. That started with W. Howard Wright, and that ethos is still very strong within our foundation. We’re into our fifth generation now and everyone is onboard with our mission.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected].