America has a philanthropic tradition. Many Americans have been motivated to give energy and money to civic improvements.
Jane and Edward Ivinson of Laramie were among them. After arriving in 1868, Jane was instrumental in organizing the first Sunday school in the city and shortly thereafter the first public school. Both Ivinsons also belonged to organizations which were dedicated to the betterment of their hometown; Edward was the Grand Noble of the Odd Fellows and Jane was a charter member of the Rebekahs.
Major gifts to the community would not occur until later in the Ivinson’s lives. The first was Edward’s contribution to the construction of the new St. Matthew’s Cathedral which began in 1892. Edward, who had been Senior Warden of the church, was noted as the most generous local donor to the building fund.
After Jane’s death in 1915, Edward became even more dedicated to giving back to his community. In 1916 he gave $50,000 (about $1 million today) and four city lots to construct the first real hospital the city and county had ever had. The original Ivinson Memorial hospital was finished early the next year.
When the funds ran short to complete the cathedral, in 1916 Edward donated more than $40,000 (about $800,00 in today’s money) in his deceased wife’s name to finish the building. He also gave the Episcopal Church two lots that Jane had owned located on the same block that housed the Cathedral. This would eventually become the location of Hunter Hall.
Continuing his efforts to aid the community, in 1919 he donated two large tracts of land to the Cathedral Home for Children. 40 acres were located approximately where the UW football stadium is now. The other gift was one-half interest in 80 acres north of LaBonte Park. Both were eventually sold by the Cathedral Home and the proceeds used to support its operations.
Not too long after their mansion was finished in 1893, the Ivinson’s were talking about giving it to the Episcopal Diocese for use as home for elderly ladies. Interviewed by the Boomerang in 1905, both Ivinsons believed this would be a suitable use for their palatial home.
In 1921 Edward made the final decision to donate his mansion to the Episcopal Church for use as a home for elderly ladies. However, the bishop and Ivinson’s physician convinced him that a better use for the house would be a boarding school for young women, allowing them to live in Laramie and obtain a secondary education. The deed was transferred that year and the Jane Ivinson Memorial Hall, a boarding school for girls, was formally opened within a year and remained in operation until the late 1950’s. When the church sold the mansion to the Laramie Plains Museum Association in 1972, repair and upkeep of the long abandoned property became the sole responsibility of the museum.
Edward also provided the funds to build a memorial to Albany County residents who had served during WW I. This effort, coordinated by Grace Raymond Hebard, resulted in the monument topped by the graceful eagle on the courthouse grounds today.
Finally, and most impressively, in 1928, Edward Ivinson gave the entire remainder of his estate to fund the creation of the Ivinson Memorial Home for Aged Ladies (later shortened to “Ivinson Home for Ladies”). This gift totaled approximately $450,000 ($6 million in today’s money) which paid for the building and created a trust fund which still supports the home to this day.
While some have criticized the Ivinsons for their lavish lifestyle and the manner in which they made their fortune, no can argue that they did not leave a lasting legacy that greatly benefitted Laramie and Albany County.
Shown is Laramie’s Ivinson Home for Ladies, soon after its construction, around 1931. Note that Grand Avenue, in the foreground, was still unpaved. This was the last philanthropic gift of Edward Ivinson to the city of Laramie, through a bequest in his will and the trust agreement he established for its operation. Ivinson died in 1928 and construction began in 1930. Architect for the Tudor revival style building was Wilbur A. Hitchcock, of Laramie. Thanks to Ivinson’s gift and other generous gifts to the endowment, no woman meeting age and health qualifications is turned away due to lack of funds. Photo courtesy of the Laramie Plains Museum