A family’s legacy of giving: supporting seniors through endowment

In 1977, Vivian Freeman was a young widow looking to continue the legacy of her late husband, Herb, a devoted CJP donor and volunteer.

Vivian, who lived in Newton, decided to seed an endowment fund to help improve the lives of seniors throughout Greater Boston. Although her husband, who was known to many as “Buddy,” did not live to see his senior years, it was important to Vivian that her philanthropy support, love, and nurture those who did.

When Vivian died in 2017 at the age of 91, her children Peter and David renamed the endowment The Herbert and Vivian Freeman Charitable Fund to honor both of their parents — and their numerous contributions to Greater Boston’s senior community.

“My dad was larger than life — full of love, energy, and humor,” says David. “He was always telling stories that had a moral or a lesson and always making plans for the next event or activity. The one question he most often asked was, ‘How can I help?’ My mom, on the other hand, possessed a quiet inner strength that exuded grace and kindness. She had a calm, loving, and reassuring presence. She loved to help people and make them feel that their problems would be solved.”

The Herbert and Vivian Freeman Charitable Fund has been helping seniors since the late 1970s. Since 1992, the fund has distributed nearly $200,000 to support senior service programs throughout Greater Boston — a tribute to the legacy of Herb and Vivian and a powerful testament to the impact of endowments. In turn, the money has helped to improve the lives of countless seniors across the community at organizations including Hebrew SeniorLife and the Brookline Senior Center.

Funds from the endowment have provided seniors with housing and meals, transportation, art and health programs, lifelong learning, and rapid COVID-19 testing during the height of the pandemic — and will continue to support new and evolving needs long into the future.

Herb and Vivian both grew up in the Boston area and learned about the importance of giving back from their own parents — Nathan and Eva Brezner and Lewis and Fay Freeman — who were involved in organizations including CJP, Hadassah, Brandeis University, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Together, Herb and Vivian loved to help the community through “a team effort,” says David.

Herb, who lost his own father very young, was deeply dedicated to CJP, Temple Israel of Boston, his alma mater, Boston University, the Newton Public Schools, adult education, and as a father of three boys, the Cub Scouts.

“Dad was an articulate and excellent advocate for causes he believed in,” says David. “He persuaded friends and strangers alike to go on special CJP fundraising trips to Israel. He returned with beautiful paintings that would hang on Mom’s walls for decades, reminding the family of his work for CJP and his commitment to the state of Israel.”

Vivian also immersed herself in volunteerism throughout the community with organizations ranging from Jewish Vocational Service to Family Service of Greater Boston to her alma mater, Wellesley College. She devoted 18 years to the Brookline Senior Center, where she coordinated programs that engaged more than 300 volunteers.

“My mom understood that when people volunteer, the gifts they are giving are themselves: their time, their skills, and their caring,” says David. “Every year, she organized a volunteer appreciation luncheon at the senior center to recognize the many volunteers. It became a tradition for her to express her appreciation for the volunteers in the form of a poem.”

Money from the endowment fund continues to support the senior center’s annual volunteer appreciation luncheon, held each April, says Brookline Senior Center Director Ruthann Dobek, who worked closely with Vivian. At Vivian’s request, the fund also covers the senior center’s monthly birthday celebrations — to honor Herb’s love of socializing and parties.

“As a small nonprofit, we would not be able to function without the generosity of donors like the Freemans,” says Ruthann. “Year in and year out, we depend on support from endowments to plan special events that celebrate our senior community without taking away from other budgetary needs.”

Sadly, Herb and Vivian’s eldest son, Robert, died in 1992 at the age of 44. While Herb and Vivian both faced loss and serious health issues in their lives, David says they always remained focused on giving back to others and continuing to live with purpose and meaning. As Herb would have turned 100 this coming summer, David reflects on his family’s legacy of giving.

“They lived not only to give and to serve but also to teach us a great lesson,” he says. “They taught us that it is by generously donating your money and selflessly volunteering your time that you find true happiness. That is how you achieve fulfillment in your life."