Bion Cram enjoyed making money and generally hated spending it, except when it came to the schools that gave him the foundation to become a wealthy investment banker.
This afternoon, Fryeburg Academy will hold a memorial service for Cram, who left $15 million to the town academy when he died in 2008. He gave $13.5 million to his other alma mater, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where he graduated in 1937 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
“He was the first in his class to get a job, and it was during the Great Depression,” said his niece, Mary Lowatchie of Falmouth. “He believed that he never would have become the man he was without the education he received.”
More than 200 students, teachers, trustees and others are expected to gather at 2:30 p.m. at the academy’s Bion Cram Library, which he gave $500,000 to build in 2002.
When the academy’s gymnasium burned in 2005, Cram gave $3 million to rebuild it. In 2007, he dedicated the new athletic arena to his sister and Lowatchie’s mother, Ada Cram Wadsworth of Hiram, who is 99 and once taught at the academy.
Most of Cram’s bequest, which only now is being acknowledged publicly, will be used to endow scholarships for academy students in need and provide academic resources and technology throughout the academy.
The depth of Cram’s generosity isn’t lost on the academy’s 600 students, including Kelsey Sheehan of Lovell, a senior who is president of the Interact Club, secretary of the National Honor Society and captain of the softball team.
“I’m benefiting directly from his gifts because I spend a lot of time at the library and the gym,” Sheehan said. “It’s amazing that he would give so much money to help students at the academy.”
Cram was a scholarship student at Fryeburg, leaving his family’s farm in Baldwin in 1929 and graduating in 1933 with top honors. He attended Bowdoin on scholarship too, then took an entry-level job with Manufacturer’s Trust Co. in New York City.
After brief stints with AT&T and the Army, Cram dove into the world of high finance. But his passion for Wall Street was a breed apart from today’s high-frequency robo-trading.
“My uncle loved the stock market,” Lowatchie said. “He did all his own research. He invested quite heavily in energy markets early on, and he was patient. He didn’t worry if something didn’t make money right away.”
Cram never had a mortgage, and owned homes in Kennebunk and Indialantic, Fla., before he died at age 93. He left the house in Kennebunk, an 1825 brick beauty, to Lowatchie. It was full of all the things he collected through the years from family members and at yard sales.
“He never discarded much,” Lowatchie said. “He was very frugal. He didn’t spend money, except to buy nice cars. He liked Lincolns. And he never bought new clothes. He shopped for clothes at thrift stores.”
A kind man with a dry wit, Cram shared his passion for education with his partner of 59 years, John McCoy, who died 13 days before Cram. McCoy was 89. They likely met in New York, where McCoy grew up and worked in textile manufacturing.
Limited by social conventions, Cram and McCoy never lived together or were open about their relationship until after they retired, Lowatchie said. Later, they often visited Fryeburg and Bowdoin together.
McCoy endowed scholarships of his own at both schools, including $3.8 million in gifts to Bowdoin, said Bill Torrey, the college’s senior vice president of planning and development.
Cram’s bequests are rare windfalls for both Fryeburg and Bowdoin, especially in the wake of a recession. His gift is one of the largest ever received by the college, which established a scholarship fund and an economics chairmanship in Cram’s name.
“It’s not like this happens every day,” said Dan Lee, Fryeburg’s headmaster. “The economy has not spared any sector of education. It’s an extraordinary gift from an extraordinary man.”
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: