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Thursday, April 04, 2002 - 9:35:08 AM MST

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Cornelius Vander Starr graduated from Fort Bragg High School in 1909; he went on to build what's become a worldwide insurance network
Starr Foundation awards $3 million for aquatic center

The Starr Foundation of New York, N.Y., has made a grant of $3 million to the Friends of the Mendocino Coast Recreation & Park District toward the construction of a new recreation and aquatic center in Fort Bragg. The grant is made in honor of Cornelius Vander Starr (1892-1968), the founder of the American International family of insurance and financial services companies, who was born in Fort Bragg.

This gift will make it possible to complete the first phase of the Community Center, the Sigrid and Harry Spath Aquatic Center, and aspects of the second phase. The final 60,000-square-foot community and recreation facility will be named the C.V. Starr Community Center. Groundbreaking for the first phase is planned for late 2002 and an official opening to the public is projected for summer 2004.

"It is particularly significant that the legacy of C.V. Starr, a Fort Bragg native, should be instrumental in making the new community center a reality," said Development Director Lin Barrett. "Neil Starr was a man of tremendous vision, who understood the importance of supporting community life and providing individuals with opportunities."

"We are delighted to be a part of this project in Mr. Starr's home town," said Florence Davis, president of the Starr Foundation. "The Foundation has funded projects in other places where Mr. Starr lived, from Brewster, N.Y., to Bermuda, to Shanghai, but this is our first project in Fort Bragg."

The $3 million grant will be paid over three years and brings committed funds to $6.5 million of the approximately $7.8 million needed to complete the current phase of the project.

The late Harry Spath, a Fort Bragg resident who died in December 2001, at age 98, donated more than $1 million to the aquatic center, which will be named the Sigrid and Harry Spath Aquatic Center. It will include a competition pool, a running river, a water slide, a spa and locker rooms.

When the second phase of the building is completed, the C.V. Starr Community Center will also include a gymnasium, fitness room, locker rooms, childcare facilities, kitchen, and space for classes and other activities. The Mendocino Health Care District, both local school districts and the College of the Redwoods have developed plans with the Recreation and Park District to optimize the use of the center.

In addition, the Starr Foundation announced that it has approved a grant of $150,000 over three years to provide scholarships to graduating seniors going on to higher education from the Fort Bragg and Mendocino school districts. "Education has always been our largest area of giving," said Gladys Thomas, vice president of the Starr Foundation, who visited Fort Bragg in October 2001. "Mr. Starr used to pay scholarships out of his own pocket to permit students to pursue educational goals they might not otherwise have been able to afford." A committee will be formed to award and administer the scholarships.

Cornelius Vander Starr graduated from Fort Bragg High School in 1909 and opened Starr's Ice Cream Parlor shortly afterward, in the building still standing at the southwest corner of Franklin and Laurel streets. His later travels took him to the Far East, where he set up his first insurance venture in Shanghai in 1919, building it into a worldwide insurance network that became American International Group, Inc. AIG today is a global organization that includes insurance, financial services, retirement savings and asset management.

C.V. Starr died in 1968, leaving the bulk of his estate to the Starr Foundation, which he had established in 1955. The Foundation currently has assets of approximately $4.5 billion, making it one of the largest private foundations in the United States. It makes grants in education, medicine and healthcare, human needs, public policy, culture and the environment.

The Mendocino Coast Recreation & Park District was formed in 1973 to develop a new recreation and aquatic facility for Fort Bragg residents. Over time it has expanded and now provides recreation facilities and activities for residents of the Mendocino Coast.

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