Seton Elm-Ivy Awards: Joining Yale & New Haven

The Setons chose to create a donor advised fund at The Community Foundation. Their signature program was the Elm-Ivy Awards, an annual celebration of individuals who have strengthened the relationship between Yale University and New Haven.

Fenmore R. Seton was born in Bridgeport and graduated from Yale in 1938. In 1956, he and his wife Phyllis started the Seton Nameplate Corporation in their home. When they sold the business in 1985, they considered starting a family foundation, but decided to explore other options.

Fenmore Seton had learned from his mother to put back what he had taken. And, she reminded him, if he could put back more than he had taken, so much the better. The Setons chose to create a donor advised fund at The Community Foundation, which Phyllis Seton describes as a true partnership: donors give to their favorite organizations and to others suggested by Foundation staff.

The Setons' signature program was the Elm-Ivy Awards, an annual celebration of individuals who have strengthened the relationship between Yale University and New Haven. As a Yale graduate, Fenmore Seton hoped a town-gown award would highlight the extraordinary impact that Yale, through its students and employees, has on New Haven, as well as the city's influence on the university.

The first honors were awarded in 1980, and over 200 honorees later the program remains a family favorite. In 2000 the Setons established an endowment for the Elm-Ivy Awards. A year later they transferred assets to begin the Yale/Seton Book Award Fund to recognize exceptional students at New Haven high schools.

The 2003 Elm-Ivy Award lunch was the last for Fenmore Seton, who died that spring. His example of philanthropic and civic leadership with The Community Foundation, and Yale University has enriched lives across the state. The Setons, early participants in the donor advised fund model, helped to popularize new alternatives at The Foundation. Their continued commitment to highlighting the positive interactions between town and gown demystified campus and community partnerships and made their expansion a reality. The Setons have indeed given back more than they received.

Special Elm-Ivy Awards were awarded in 2013 to outgoing New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Yale University President Dr. Richard C. Levin, both of whom served 20 years in their respective positions before stepping down. Other Elm Awards that year were given to Rosemarie Lemley, executive assistant to the mayor; Rick Fontana, deputy director of emergency management for the City of New Haven; and Daisy Abreu, deputy director of the Town Green Special Services District. Ivy Awards were given to Regina Starolis, executive assistant to the president of Yale University; Maria Bouffard, director of emergency management at Yale; Leif Mitchell, assistant director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS; Jane Levin, director of undergraduate studies in the Directed Studies Program of Yale College; Dr. Ayana Jordan, a resident in psychiatry; and Molly Gibbons, a Yale junior and coordinator of the Yale Coop Dance Collaborative. See recent Elm-Ivy Award recipients here.

Like the Setons, you or someone you know can create a lasting legacy through a donor advised fund that benefits your community for generations. To learn more, please contact Sharon Cappetta at 203-777-7071.

First published 2014; updated 2019