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Heacock's $1 Million Gift Adds to F&M's Scholarships

When he died last fall at age 91, John G. Heacock '42 left a letter that explained why he wanted to bequeath $1 million to support financial aid for students at Franklin & Marshall College.

"As a poor boy whose father had been ill for 10 years and died when I was 15, I was only able to go to college because my uncle, a Methodist minister, invited me to live at his parsonage in Lancaster Co., in order to be able to go to F&M," wrote Heacock, who majored in physics at F&M, then went to work on the Manhattan Project, and later in life became an ordained minister.

"College has made a marvelous difference in my life," he explained in his letter, dated March 19, 1992. "I would like to enable some other bright young men and young women to have the same opportunity, which they otherwise would not have had because of economic constraints."

  • John Heacock
  • When John G. Heacock '42 came to Franklin & Marshall College, he had no money to support himself, said his niece, Charlotte Hunt. Seven decades later, Heacock's posthumous gift of $1 million to the College will support students who will benefit from financial aid. (Photo Courtesy of Charlotte Hunt) 

Heacock's niece, Charlotte Hunt, and her family drove from Virginia to present his letter and a $1 million check to F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield on a recent afternoon, establishing as Heacock's legacy the John G. ("Jack") and Jean C. Heacock, Jr., Class of 1942, Endowed Scholarship Fund. It will provide need-based scholarships to generations of students beginning in the fall of 2014.

"This gracious and generous gift from Mr. Heacock and his family exemplifies the spirit and tradition of giving back and fostering student success that reflects the values of Franklin & Marshall College," Porterfield said. "Gifts like these allow the College to meet the full financial need of talented students who will receive the lifelong education that Mr. Heacock valued."

The new scholarship's other namesake, Heacock's wife of 27 years, Jean, died in 1982.

In his letter, Heacock said that to build on the legacy he created, he hoped recipients of his aid would, when they were financially capable, "recycle" the aid they received so F&M could provide aid for future "needy students who show promise."

After meeting with Porterfield for about an hour with her son, Steve, and his wife, Marcie, Hunt visited the College's Archives and Special Collections department to donate a blue-and-white F&M pennant and a May 18, 1942, Commencement ticket that Heacock had saved from his days on campus.

  • Dan Porterfield and Charlotte Hunt
  • Charlotte Hunt, the niece of John G. Heacock '42, meets with Franklin & Marshall College President Daniel R. Porterfield to present a $1 million check to support need-based financial aid at F&M. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

A consistent donor of modest amounts to F&M for more than half a century, Heacock was penniless when he first entered the College, two years after his father died of tuberculosis. Heacock's niece said his sister, Grace (Hunt's mother), would send him money to make sure he had enough to eat.

"He had no money of his own to come to school," Hunt said.

Hunt said Heacock was always thankful for the opportunity to get an education that propelled him into the field of science, first working on the Manhattan Project -- the U.S. government's top-secret effort that built the atomic bomb, ending World War II -- and then in geophysics.

"It gave him confidence. It gave him something to look forward to," she said. "It was a stepping stone." 

Heacock's work on the Manhattan Project included improving the design of the mass spectrometer ion collector, used to evaluate the effectiveness of uranium isotope separation. This led him into the field of geophysics research. He sailed on submarines measuring Earth's gravitational pull at sea. During this period, 1948-49, he discovered and named the 1,700-mile-long Middle America Trench in the Pacific Ocean, a 21,880-foot-deep earthquake region where one tectonic plate shifts under another.

  • Heacock pennant and commencement ticket
  • The family of John G. Heacock '42 donated a 1942 F&M pennant and 1942 Commencement ceremony ticket to F&M's Archives & Special Collections. (Photo by Melissa Hess)

He later went to work for the Office of Naval Research from 1962 to 1990, as director of the Earth Physics Program. In 1995, after graduating from Wesley Theological Seminary with a master of divinity, Heacock at age 74 was ordained a United Methodist Church minister.

"He was just a very unique person," said Hunt, who was close to her uncle and cared for him in the final decade of his life. "He would say 'knowledge is power' and that we should look at every day as an educational experience."