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Horace Mann’s generous donations to Buffalo State exceed $7 million

Horace Mann gave quite a bit to SUNY Buffalo State during his lifetime.

He taught nearly 40 years, building the college’s exceptional education department from nothing into one of the largest programs of its type in the country.

In 2001, he donated $1 million to fund scholarships, speakers and faculty work in special education. A year later, he made another $1 million gift, and he followed those up with similar donations in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008.

Mann, who was known to friends as ‘Hank,’ died in 2010 at age 88, but his giving didn’t stop then.

Nearly four years after his passing, the college is still learning the full extent of his generosity. College officials recently were made aware that he left behind another sizeable donation, through an intervivos trust, amounting to more than $2 million.

All totaled, Mann gave in excess of $7 million to Buffalo State, easily making him the largest donor in the college’s history.

Few people knew the gregarious, quirky professor had amassed that kind of wealth.

Mann’s highest salary as a faculty member at Buffalo State was less than $74,000, and friends said that to their knowledge he had not inherited money.

“He was one of us, another professor. He was just ‘Hank,’” said Wendy Paterson, dean of the School of Education. “You would never identify him as a man who had such a fortune. He was not ostentatious in the least. He was quite frugal, actually.”

Mann, who never married and did not have children, lived for many years in a rented carriage house until buying a modest Delaware Avenue condominium. He refused to buy new cars. He shunned finer restaurants in favor of buffets, and he was comfortable in a pair of well-worn khakis and a bargain-bin sweater.

“He gave money to many people. He sort of theoretically lent them money. It turned out to be more a gift than a loan because he often didn’t get paid back,” said Dr. Sol Messinger, a longtime friend. “But he had great difficulty in spending money on himself.”

Years ago, Mann plucked a large desk out of a garbage pile and used it in his home office.

When a friend noticed that the desk might actually be a fine piece of furniture underneath its garish paint, Mann balked at the prospect of having it professionally refinished.

“He said, ‘No, I can’t afford to do that. That would be expensive. Who can afford such a thing?’ ” recalled Richard Lee, a retired Buffalo State colleague who persuaded Mann to restore the desk.

Mann sometimes related how, as a child, he was taught to live on just a third of his earnings. The other two-thirds were to be saved and given to charity.

“He really believed in that,” Lee said.

His only luxuries were travel and fine art, and he amassed a significant collection of paintings and other artwork.

In addition to his thriftiness, Mann was a disciplined investor, over a long period of time.

Estate attorney Joel Brownstein said Mann invested in the stock market primarily through a firm outside New York City and did particularly well in the bull markets of the 1990s.

“He had good financial advice, and he kept investing his money,” Brownstein said.

Mann’s estate has not yet been finalized, in part because he was so generous with his giving. His will, drafted in 1977, identified 18 friends as beneficiaries, along with several nonprofit organizations, including the United Jewish Federation, the Niagara Lutheran Home and the Community Music School of Buffalo.

Other groups also benefitted from Mann’s trust, but not anything like his generosity to Buffalo State.

“Nothing that came anywhere close to Buffalo State,” Brownstein said. “That was first and foremost in his mind. He gave his life to that organization.”

Mann’s friends said they knew little about the professor’s life before his arrival in Buffalo.

He grew up in a modest Brooklyn home during the Great Depression.

His mother named him after Horace Mann, the mid-1800s education reformer and advocate of public schools, and Mann joked in a 2002 interview with The News that having the name meant he was destined to be an educator, “whether I wanted to or not.”

Mann was wounded while serving as a bombardier-navigator in the Army Air Forces during World War II, and he was awarded the Purple Heart.

After the war, he taught briefly in New York City public schools, then pursued a doctorate in special education from Pennsylvania State University.

He landed at Buffalo State in 1953 as director of the Exceptional Children Education Division, and he built a worldwide reputation as an expert in special education.

At some point, Mann moved his elderly father, Benjamin, to Western New York so he could be closer. But Mann’s only other relative in the Buffalo area was a second cousin, and in the 2002 interview, the professor described the college as being a family to him.

Mann was beloved on campus before the big gifts started rolling in. His impish sense of humor and inquisitive curiosity endeared him to students, as well as campus maintenance workers and upper-level administrators. He seemed to know just about everyone by name, and he was a father figure to many younger faculty members.

“He was as respected at that college as any president ever was,” Lee said.

Mann retired in 1992, but he still had an office and was on campus two to three times a week.

In addition to scholarships, his gifts fund faculty research, student travel and awards for campus physical plant employees.

Mann also set up an endowed chair in exceptional education – one of only three endowed chairs at Buffalo State.

The college is hosting a sculpture competition in Mann’s memory, awarding $15,000 to an artist or artists who submit a winning design for a permanent sculpture that will be installed in a garden on the academic quad – Mann’s favorite spot on campus.

Mann always was a stickler for the campus grounds looking as fine as possible, friends said.

“He was just a darling man,” said Paterson. “There won’t ever be another Hank Mann.”