News and analysis
August 07, 2010

Famed Children’s Book Author Gives $1-Million for Social Services

James Keyser/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Maurice Sendak, creator of Where the Wild Things Are, donated to a New York social-services group.

How much: $1-million

Who gave it: Maurice Sendak, the children’s book author who published Where the Wild Things Are in 1963

Who got it: The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, which provides mental-health and social services to needy people in the New York metropolitan area

The donor’s connection to the organization: Mr. Sendak’s partner, Eugene D. Glynn, was a psychiatrist who treated young people at the Jewish Board for about 30 years and who helped people affected by the AIDS epidemic throughout the ’80s and ’90s. He died in May 2007.

Purpose: The gift will name a clinic after Dr. Glynn and will support services that the Jewish Board performs at no charge, such as talking to family members about a relative in treatment.

How the gift came about: Thom Hamill, director of development and philanthropy at the Jewish Board, came across an article about Mr. Sendak that discussed his career, life, and hardships, notably the death of Dr. Glynn. Mr. Hamill says, “I didn’t really know anything about Maurice Sendak other than what I read as a child and what I’ve read to my own children. And so on a whim, I wrote him a letter saying that I’d always been a fan of his and that I didn’t know what, if any, plans he had in memorializing the contribution that Dr. Glynn had made to the agency, to the City of New York, to youth and people struggling with mental illness. But that if he did want to give that consideration, I would welcome that opportunity.”

After some time passed with no response, Mr. Hamill sent Mr. Sendak a fax in bold print saying he had yet to hear from him. Five minutes later, Mr. Hamill received a call from the author. An hourlong conversation blossomed into a friendship, with Mr. Hamill visiting Mr. Sendak’s home in Connecticut on six or seven occasions, visits that sometimes were as simple as walking Mr. Sendak’s dog, Herman. Mr. Hamill will soon visit the author’s home to celebrate his 82nd birthday.

Impact of the gift: A private man, Mr. Sendak did not publicize the gift. Mr. Hamill says that Mr. Sendak said his only interest was in helping others. “It wasn’t about his ego; it wasn’t about his name.”