'Guilt trip' compels GHS alumnus to donate $2.2 million to help educate area teachers

Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.

An alumnus of Alachua County's public schools so appreciated his education in Gainesville that he's leaving teachers a $2.2 million gift in his will.

Attorney Mike Gengler, 69, established the fund to support Alachua County teachers who want to pursue advanced degrees in teaching at the University of Florida's College of Education.

Full tuition for the graduate studies of at least three teachers per year will be paid for by the interest earned on the donation, according to a news release by the college.

The endowment will be administered by the University of Florida Foundation.

"In my opinion, public education is the most important government function," Gengler wrote in an email. "And the teachers in the classroom are the most important people who do this work. I want to put some resources behind their work, and hope that other private sources of funds will be encouraged to help."

Gengler said it was part gratitude, part guilt that inspired him to bequeath the gift.

In 1968, Gengler and several of his friends from Gainesville were students at Harvard University.

Their former principal at Gainesville High School, William S. Talbot, was visiting Boston, and they threw a party for him.

There, Gengler said, Talbot good-naturedly chastised his former students.

You successful students reap the benefits of Alachua County's education system but never return, Gengler said Talbot told them.

"And so I've had this guilt trip laid on me for my entire life," said Gengler, who practiced law in Boston and Chicago.

Since his career in corporate law took him away from the place where he got his base for success, Gengler said he wanted to give something back.

Gengler said he hopes the endowment fund will help keep the best and brightest teachers in Gainesville, and in their classrooms.

"This will hopefully encourage people to locate here and stay here, and make a career of teaching," he said.

Karen Clarke, assistant superintendent for student support, curriculum and instructional services for Alachua County Public Schools, said it's fairly common for teachers to get an advanced degree, although many times it's so they can go into administration or a highly specialized program.

The cost can certainly be a deterrent, especially for a teacher who wants to stay in the classroom.

Gifts like Gengler's don't come often, Clarke said, so a donation this big that will fund teachers' continued education is "very special."

"Lifelong learning is something that we all (aspire) to do," she said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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