VENICE — Bill Jervey doesn’t donate to everything — but he also doesn’t believe in holding his funds until he’s dead.
Credit a man who died a century ago for Jervey’s attitude: industrialist Andrew Carnegie gave away about 90% of his accumulated wealth before he died.
Jervey, who officially announced Friday night his matching gift of $1 million for the Venice Theatre’s The Next Act fundraising drive, has spent the last few years donating to “viable” projects in Venice.
Jervey said Wednesday he’s been visiting Venice since he was a child living in Virginia. His parents brought him down to the area and they stayed at Inn at the Beach.
“I had a great time. I remember I got a good sunburn which was always a good test of how good the beach was,” he said.
His father was transferred to Hawaii when he was 11 and he spent his formative years on the island — but even then and as a young adult — he “longed, one day, to get to Florida.”
Life being what it is, it took some time. He graduated from the University of Hawaii, returned to the mainland where he earned a masters and Ph.D in Arizona and taught in New Mexico for a year before a road trip in 1969 ultimately landed him job offers in Miami-Dade and what was then Florida Technological University — which is now University of Central Florida.
He took the job in Orlando and has spent the last 50 years in the central part of the state along with some time in the Daytona Beach area.
About a decade ago, he visited Venice and decided it was time to return.
“I thought: This is the time. I’m going to make the effort to get to Venice. And so I did ... and fell in love with the city,” he said. “It had everything I wanted. The people were so nice — it just felt good.”
He came back and became involved in local organizations. First it was his condominium association but that led him to other groups, including the city’s Historic Preservation Board, Circus Arts Foundation and the foundation to assist the Lord-Higel House.
Along the way, he became involved in philanthropy.
While working as a professor, he was also earning money in the stock market. Over the last few years, he has been steadily donating that money — taking his cue from Carnegie.
With the Lord-Higel House, he matched $25,000 with others who were helping out. Prior to the chunk of funds, improvements to the historic Venice property were in a slog. Since then, the improvements have been strong and steady — with fundraising for it now in the six-figures.
“That was what gave me the idea — if you could put some seed money up, get a project going that appears to be viable, the money will come in by itself,” he said. “And I’ve done that repeatedly now.”
He’s also assisted with philanthropy with the Venice Urban Forest; the Short Leaf Pine Pullman circus car that was once owned by John Ringling; the Betty Intagliata Lecture Series; State College of Florida-Venice, SCF Collegiate School along with the new Venice public library.
In his honor, Jervey has the rare distinction of having two libraries named for him in the same county “That was what gave me the idea —- if you could some seed money up, the Dr. Bill Jervey Jr. Library at SCF-Venice and the William H. Jervey Jr. Venice Public Library.
It’s a distinction that brings him joy, thinking of the relationship to the Carnegie libraries throughout the country.
Philanthropy was “a gradual process,” he said.
“I started small. I gave $1,000 to the Circus Arts Foundation and it gave me such great pleasure to think that might help save that beautiful arena. And one thing leads to another and you get more involved.”
He stressed many other people also give “in terms of donations and in terms of time. He is in awe of people like Sarabeth Kalajian, Betty Intagliata and others who work for the community in so many different ways.
He donates with a hope to help, he said.
“What I would like to be remembered as is doing for Venice what the Selbys and what the Baranciks and what Betty Schoenbaum have done for Sarasota — and I know how much satisfaction they got out of their giving,” he said.
While he acknowledges having only a fraction of what they had, he feels it’s important to ensure he donates what he can while he can see its impact and help guide how it’s used.
“Do it while you’re still alive. It’s the old ‘pay it forward’ syndrome.”
He is helping raise funds to enhance the children’s area at the Venice library that already bears his name. This spring, that port of the facility will become the The Sarabeth Brian Kalajian Children’s Wing at the Venice library.
“She turned into one of our great public servants,” he said.