In 1868, Civil War veteran H.K. Webster founded a small feed grain operation in Lawrence. In the 1980s, under the leadership of H.K.’s great-grandsons Dean and King Webster, the company reached its zenith as a manufacturer and distributor of Blue Seal Feeds in the Northeast.
Nurturing a family company is an especially absorbing occupation. When the cousins decided to sell the business built by generations of ancestors, they gained prosperity and freedom but lost a large part of their identity. As he walked out of the office on that last day, King realized he would have to find a new focus for his productive life.
Within months the choice was clear, and he and his wife Dee embarked on a life of philanthropy, focusing on the education of youth. They devoted the next 11 years of their lives to supporting the education of 62 sixth-graders in Lawrence. Dee and King nurtured, coached, pushed and encouraged them all. They met with teachers and parents. They had the students to their home for meals and took them on field trips. They heard about victories, loves, troubles and hopes. The Websters’ energy, care and generosity helped an at-risk group of students, almost all of whom finished high school. Fifteen have received four-year college degrees. Some have families, careers and a life beyond their expectations. They send holiday cards. They visit Dee and King and share their lives.
The Websters know what hard work good philanthropy is and they are very strategic about it. They are not interested in reactive giving or in basing charity on symptoms, focusing instead on “teaching people to fish” with proactive programs, mostly focused on education. Given those values, it’s no surprise that Dee and King were among ECCF’s earliest supporters and over the years have become among the most generous. Their Donor Advised Fund at the Community Foundation supports education programs that serve children from the Lawrence community. The Websters’ gifts help fund many programs that are making a great difference in Lawrence. They always inspire and encourage others to join them, because smart philanthropy is even more effective when shared.
“One of the many things I admire about King Webster is he approaches his philanthropy like the trained engineer that he is. He checks things out for himself. He ‘kicks the tires’ of his many causes through regular site visits and in-depth conversations with those involved, whether it is the executive director, a teacher, a student or the bus driver." said Steve Filosa, director of Prep @ Pingree, a summer program that King supported through the Greater Lawrence Summer Fund. "King asks hard questions that probe far beneath the surface. The questions result in improving the organization. I am inspired by King because he chooses to spend his ‘retirement’ doing good works."
Essex County and its Community Foundation have been fortunate indeed to have had Kingman and Dee Webster showing how philanthropy can have a personal and powerful impact on not just the people they support, but also on the people they inspired.