Friday, December 13, 2013
Good news is hard to come by in public education these days.
Louis Fineberg: “I can’t take it with me. And I can’t think of a better thing to do than to throw it around where it’s needed, where it can do the most good.”
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
School budgets are so tight they squeak. Teachers, even the best ones, walk around with political bull's-eyes on their backs. And for every supporter of the local school system, it seems there are a dozen critics.
So imagine Scarborough Superintendent of Schools George Entwistle's reaction a few weeks ago when, out of the blue, $100,000 landed at his doorstep.
"We were like, 'Oh, my God. This is unbelievable,' " Entwistle said Friday.
The money came from Louis Fineberg. Perhaps, if you've been around Greater Portland any time in the last century or so, you already know the name.
"I can't take it with me," a smiling Fineberg, who will turn 100 on July 18, said in an interview last week. "And I can't think of a better thing to do than to throw it around where it's needed, where it can do the most good."
That would be the Scarborough Education Foundation, a recently formed nonprofit organization dedicated, as its mission states, "to promote academic excellence in the public schools by funding innovative and creative educational programs that fall outside existing school budget considerations."
More on that in a minute. First, a little bit about Fineberg.
Born in Nova Scotia in 1912, he moved to Portland as a young boy with a lot of energy and an undying love for clarinets, saxophones and any other instrument that drew music from a reed.
For years, Fineberg played on the regional vaudeville circuit. He played for the Ice Capades. He even had his own music show on WCSH radio back when the station broadcast from atop the Congress Square Hotel.
In short, life was good. And then one day in the late 1930s, it got a whole lot better.
Fineberg had stopped in at Porteous on Congress Street to visit a friend who sold furs for what at the time was Maine's largest department store.
In walked an attractive young woman. Jumping up to the circular modeling platform, Fineberg's buddy smelled a commission.
"He tried a fur on her -- he's trying to make a sale," Fineberg recalled with a smile. "And he looked at me and said, 'What do you think of this fur?' "
Fineberg knew nothing about furs. But he liked the girl.
"It looks good!" he chimed in with all the enthusiasm he could muster.
"Where's your taste?" replied the young woman, staring down in disdain at Fineberg. "This is awful!"
Her name was Tina. She would go on to become Mrs. Fineberg for 70 blissful years.
Together, Louis and Tina, herself a gifted pianist, owned and operated the Music Mart on Congress Street for 28 years. They befriended such legends as Glenn Miller and Milton Berle, who married one of Tina's best friends.
The Finebergs lived in Portland and raised two daughters -- Lois and Fraya, now a percussionist for the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Then in the early 1970s, with retirement on the horizon, Louis and Tina bought a home on the beach at Pine Point in Scarborough.
Even back then, the Finebergs' constant generosity took many forms.
They supported the Deering High School band, in which both their daughters played, and made frequent donations to Meals on Wheels.
To show their support for the Scarborough Police Department, they even covered the cost of purchasing and training a K-9 patrol dog.
But the older they got, the more they wanted to do something bigger. Something that would make a lasting difference.
So after scouting around for possible beneficiaries, the Finebergs resolved to put a sizable chunk of their assets where Scarborough's future is -- the local schools.
(Continued on page 2)