From the Start: The Elm and Ivy Awards Partnership

The Seton's philanthropic and civic leadership continues to enrich many lives.

Phyllis Seton

Fen Seton

Being called a philanthropist can make a modest person uncomfortable. Yet, at its roots, the word 'philanthropy' means 'loving people,' and that – more than anything fueled the generosity of Fenmore Seton and his wife Phyllis, who have supported a rainbow of organizations and worthy causes, including the establishment of the Seton Elm-Ivy Awards through The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

The annual Elm-Ivy celebration pays tribute to the individuals who have strengthened relationships between Yale University and the City of New Haven. The first year of the award was 1979. Since that time more than 415 people have been honored at a spring luncheon at Yale University. Elm Awards go to adults in the broader New Haven community. Ivy Awards go to Yale staff and faculty, undergraduate and graduate students.

In establishing the town-gown award, Seton, a Yale graduate (class of 1938), envisioned a prize that would highlight the positive interactions between the city and the university, demystify the campus and celebrate community partnerships. Seton, almost 40 years ago, recognized that a community's strength was rooted in dialogue and inclusion.

The relationship between New Haven and Yale University works because of the commitment and leadership of countless people throughout New Haven and on campus. Recipients of the Elm Award include John Bradley, the past executive director of Liberty Community Services, which runs the Sunrise Café in Wooster Square to serve breakfast to those who are homeless and in need; Elsie Chapman of the New Haven Free Public Library; Erik Clemons, director of the Connecticut Center for Art and Technology, which provides after-school programs and job training; Carter Winstanley, the developer who created space for biotech companies and others that promote economic development in New Haven. A complete list of Elm-Ivy recipients is here.

The Setons started the Seton Name Plate Corporation in the basement of their home in 1956. Fen, who passed away in 2003, was known for his strong moral compass, a loving 60-plus year marriage to Phyllis, and professional success. He also believed in the well-being of others. The Setons were devoted to causes that benefited young people, especially children with disabilities. Easter Seals Rehabilitation, The Children's Center, Peabody Museum, Edgerton Garden, Gaylord Hospital, and Save The Children Federation were just a few of the organizations supported by the couple.

Like the Elm tree that grows because of its roots system, the Elm-Ivy Award continues its growth by showing us that community members and institutions can combine their ideas and energy for creative community change.

Seton's philanthropic and civic leadership continues to enrich many lives. Fen and Phyllis, you've shown us what it means to be a philanthropist. Thank you.

This article is part of a series of stories celebrating The Community Foundation's 90th Anniversary.

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Seton Elm-Ivy Awards Endowed Fund