Longtime community resident Richard Toder has set a high bar for voluntarism in Scarsdale. While working grueling days as a partner and chair of law firm Morgan Lewis and Bockius’ Bankruptcy and Financial Restructuring Practices (in 1997, he was one of twelve attorneys listed by Turnarounds and Workouts as “top bankruptcy lawyers” in the country), Toder has volunteered in some of the most significant civic organizations in Scarsdale, including: the Town Club (now the Scarsdale Forum); Citizens Nominating Committee; Board of Appeals; Board of Education (where he served as its president in 1995-1996); Village of Scarsdale board of trustees (from 2008-2012 he variously served as deputy mayor and as chairman of the Law, Recreation, Land Use, and Personnel committees); and currently as President of the Scarsdale Foundation. Known for his brilliant mind, strong work ethic, and incisive wit, Toder has mentored generations of Scarsdale volunteers by teaching through example that there’s always time in the day to give back to the community, no matter how busy one is.
A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Toder is an inspiration to those who have worked with him in Scarsdale over the years. Rita Golden, who served with Toder on the Board of Education, had these words to say about him: “I was always impressed by his ability to cut through the weeds and get to the heart of an issue, define the options, and come to an intelligent conclusion, often with just the right humorous comment to lighten the moment.” In an effort to highlight people in the community who have made our volunteer institutions so effective, we asked Richard to share his recipe for success. Here’s what he told us:
What initially attracted you to Scarsdale and when did you move here?
My wife, Joan, and I moved here in 1975. We knew that Scarsdale was a great place to raise children and that it had one of the finest public school systems in the country. Our children went through the Scarsdale schools and got a great education. Our son David is an architect and our daughter Elizabeth works for an NGO in microfinance. I should add that we have six grandchildren!
How did you first become involved in the volunteer sector? What was your first volunteer commitment in town?
I got involved almost immediately! One of our neighbors encouraged me to join the Town Club and I became active in some of their committees. I was struck by the fact that you could move up in the system rapidly if you were just prepared to do some work. I became a chair of a committee in a matter of a few years.
You have served on two of the most significant and time-consuming boards in town: the Scarsdale Board of Education and Village of Scarsdale board of trustees. How have you been able to balance your work responsibilities as partner of a major law firm with these demanding volunteer commitments?
One thing that the practice of law does is to quickly force one to develop the discipline and ability to multi-task in a way that allows one to work as efficiently as possible. Having said that, the key is to have to have an understanding spouse…Joan has always been great at putting up with me! When I was Board of Education president I was also working on the Barney’s bankruptcy, representing the agent bank. Yet somehow there was time to do both!
What was the most significant issue you tackled on Board of Education?
When I was Vice-President, the community became embroiled in a discussion over whether the schools – and in particular the elementary schools -could teach not religion per se, but a better understanding of different religious holidays and traditions celebrated by Scarsdale students. As an attorney, I was assigned to look into the constitutionality of whether Scarsdale, as a school system, could have a generalized teaching unit on multicultural holiday traditions. Entirely aside from constitutionality, the real issue was tolerance, and instilling a recognition that different customs and traditions should be respected by all of us. It began as quite an emotionally charged issue, which had the potential to be extremely divisive, but fortunately the result of the dialogue was that a holiday policy was developed that was both educational and sensitive to the diverse views held by residents in the community. I was very proud of how the community came together on this issue. [Notes former Board colleague Rita Golden, “Richard’s presentation on the final night we were debating the issue at a board meeting before the voting was masterful, a detailed legal brief where he noted each concern and laid out the legal rationale behind the decision. It was masterful and one of the most remarkable speeches I have ever heard a board member deliver.”]
You most recently completed a four year term as trustee and deputy mayor of the Village of Scarsdale, chairing their committees on Law, Recreation, Land Use, and Personnel. What do you believe are the challenges facing our village in the next several years?
I believe that balancing the residents’ desire for continued high level of service while at the same time keeping tax increases modest will continue to be our greatest challenge. That’s nothing new, but in today’s economy it is an even more pressing problem.
What’s an example of a difficult issue that was resolved when you were a trustee?
The tree law is a great example- I think we came up with a balanced approach, and that’s how the system should work. Relatively extreme positions on both sides – total regulation of all tree removal (regardless of the size or number of trees involved) versus no regulation at all because of the primacy of property rights – were modified so that we ultimately passed an ordinance which accomplished the purpose of keeping Scarsdale beautiful without unduly restricting the ability of homeowners to make decisions concerning their own property.
As the new president of the Scarsdale Foundation, what do you hope to accomplish in your term of office?
Despite the fact that the Foundation has been in existence since 1923, it is not as well known in the community as it should be, and I hope to help engender a sense of understanding among our residents of the importance of our work. When people think of the Scarsdale Foundation, if they do, they think about it as the presenter of the Scarsdale Bowl award, given annually to a citizen who has contributed outstanding volunteer service to the community. But we do so much more! Our college scholarship grants enable us to help children of our village who would otherwise, because of financial constraints of their families, be unable to attend college. And after all, we all came to Scarsdale in large part because of the importance of education for our children. This year, we gave out $97,000 in scholarship money to 26 sophomores, juniors and seniors in college, thanks in part to generous donations of many supporters in the community.
Our summer day camp program is even lesser known: through a confidential process, the Foundation makes grants to Scarsdale children who are in need of assistance so that these children are able to attend the Scarsdale Recreation Department summer day camp. Our recipients have significant financial challenges and the benefits for these children being able to enjoy camp are so important. A more complete listing of Scarsdale Foundation programs follows this article.
Many people believe that all Scarsdale residents are well-to-do and don’t need financial assistance. Is that a myth?
Many Scarsdale residents are very fortunate. But there is a pervasive, albeit incorrect, view that all residents of Scarsdale are well-to-do, and that’s not true. Especially in these challenging economic times, many families in Scarsdale are hurting. The Foundation – which is dedicated to the betterment of the community in the broadest sense - assists its families who struggle in meeting the ever-increasing costs of a college education and day camp for their children.
What is a typical profile of a scholarship recipient (recognizing that this is a confidential process)?
A significant number of applications come from single parent families, while others are from students whose parents have lost jobs or whose savings for college have been eroded or wiped out by investment losses or devastating health care setbacks. Many of our families are already deeply in debt, but they’re still coming up short. We all know that tuition costs at colleges continue to increase well above the inflation rate, and accordingly, the number of grant applications that we’ve received in recent years has increased dramatically.
What motivated you over the years to take on so many community responsibilities?
Scarsdale has been great for our family, and giving back is part of the implicit social contract. Besides that, voluntarism has been a great deal of fun!
Though it hardly seems possible, your life is NOT all work, no play. You are an avid golfer, tennis and paddle player and world traveler, correct?
Indeed! For many years Scarsdale had a town paddle team that competed with other teams, villages and clubs. I was captain of the team at one point. And travel has been something that I’ve enjoyed for many years. Long ago, my wife, Joan, began a tradition whereby she would take me on a secret long weekend somewhere outside the US – she would tell me the destination only when it was just about time to pack. We wound up going to many of the countries in Europe. My favorite trip outside Europe was a safari in Africa – it was so different from anything we’d done, although it caused significant apprehension at various times, like when our guide parked our jeep right under a tree where a leopard was feeding. You quickly realize you’re in a place where you are in the wrong part of the food chain. I also loved the Galapagos and in the spring we are taking our children and grandchildren back there with us!
What would you tell new parents moving to Scarsdale about getting involved?
Do it – not because it’s required, or even because it’s right (which it is) but because it’s fun! You’ll meet great people who’ll become your friends.
More about the Scarsdale Foundation
The Scarsdale Foundation was founded in 1923 by a Declaration of Trust, in which several local banks joined to collect and administer a fund for the family of a Scarsdale police officer who had been killed in the line of duty. The Scarsdale Foundation was incorporated by an Act of the New York State Legislature in 1930 and now operates as a 501(c)(3) entity under the provisions of the New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation law.
Over the years, the Foundation has extended the breadth of its giving. Financial aid is available to children attending the Scarsdale Recreation Department summer day camp. Need-based college scholarships are available to students entering their sophomore, junior, and senior years of college who were graduates of Scarsdale High School or resided in Scarsdale during their high school years. In 2012, $97,000 in scholarship money was awarded to 26 individuals. The Foundation also makes specific grants for civic purposes, including significant recent grants to the Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Scarsdale-Edgemont Family Counseling Service.
The Foundation also administers a number of educational assistance funds, including the Casey Ferrone Memorial Fund, the Kathy Froelich Memorial Fund, the Delany Fund, the Corbin Scholarship Fund, the Dartmouth Fund, and the Harvard Book Award; and several community service funds, including the Frank J. and Ruth P. Galvin Fund, the Scarsdale School Personnel and Family Assistance Fund, and the Billy Safian Humanitarian Fund.
The Scarsdale Foundation is perhaps best known in the community as the presenter of the Scarsdale Bowl Award, given annually to a citizen who has contributed outstanding volunteer service to the community. The 2012 Scarsdale Bowl honoree was Florie Wachtenheim, a dedicated community volunteer. The 2013 Bowl dinner is scheduled for April 17. All members of the community are invited and encouraged to attend.
Thanks to the generosity of Scarsdale residents past and present, the assets of the Foundation have grown in recent years. At the end of the last fiscal year, on June 30, 2012, they were $1.7 million.
Foundation trustees are Richard Toder, President; Beverley Sved, Vice President; Seth Ross, Secretary; Susie Rush, Treasurer; Jacqueline Irwin; David Karp; David Kroenlein; Emily Sherwood; and Evelyn Stock.