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Virginia Dresher remembered for her and her family's contributions to Harford organizations

John Carroll School, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, was awarded a grant in May from the Dresher Foundation, founded by Virginia Dresher and her late husband, James. Mrs. Dresher died Sept 2.
John Carroll School, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, was awarded a grant in May from the Dresher Foundation, founded by Virginia Dresher and her late husband, James. Mrs. Dresher died Sept 2. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS FILE PHOTO, Patuxent Homestead)

Members of the Bel Air and Harford County community remember Virginia Morgan Dresher as a warm, kind and generous person, who passed that giving spirit on to her children and grandchildren.

"Her warmth and kindness really extends through them and really comes out in all the members of the family," Kurt Sudbrink, vice president for institutional advancement at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, said Monday. "They truly are just a warm and friendly family and just good people and I'm sure she had a lot to do with that."

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Mrs. Dresher, who created The Dresher Foundation in 1989 with her late husband, James, died Sept. 2 at age 92. The foundation aids nonprofits primarily in Baltimore City, eastern Baltimore County and Harford County, according to its website http://www.dresherfoundation.org.

Begun with an endowment of $5 million in 1989, the foundation had assets of $56.3 million as of Dec. 13, 2013 and made grants totaling $26 million from 2002 through 2013. Much of that money has come to Harford County in support of a variety of organizations and activities.

James Thomas Dresher Sr. died in March 1999 at age 79, according to his obituary. He and Mrs. Dresher were married for 56 years, and lived at Glenangus Farms near Bel Air. Mr. Dresher worked as a certified public accountant for a number of large corporations and was a co-owner of McDonald's restaurants in Baltimore and Harford counties, as well as owner and chairman of the Glenangus Real Estate Development Company, according to his obituary.

Mrs. Dresher, who was born in Munhall, Pa., is survived by four children, nine grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, with a 17th great-grandchild due in November, according to her obituary. In addition to her husband, she was preceded in death by two grandchildren.

Her children and grandchildren remain active participants and leaders of the Dresher Foundation, which is headquartered in White Marsh.

Mrs. Dresher was the foundation's first board president. On the foundation's website she explained its emphasis on giving locally: "Giving locally means being able to see first-hand the results and the difference it's making in people's lives."

Richard O'Hara, president of John Carroll, said that when he met Mrs. Dresher, "she just radiated so much kindness and warmth and real genuine generosity of spirit, and I have to believe that served her so well as a role model."

John Carroll is among the many educational institutions and nonprofit organizations in the Baltimore region which have received support from The Dresher Foundation.

Some of the Harford County organizations that received Dresher Foundation grants in 2013 include Addictions Connections Resource ($35,000), Arrow Child & Family Ministries ($20,000), the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County ($50,000), the Community Foundation of Harford County ($25,000), the Harford Community College Foundation ($100,000), Faith Communities and Civic Agencies United for its emergency shelter ($95,000), Harford Day School ($100,000), LASOS, or Linking All So Others Succeed ($60,000), Tabitha's House ($18,000) and Village at Lakeview Neighborhood Network Community Center ($20,000), according to the foundation website.

"The family and foundation have been supporters of the Community Foundation since Day One," Tamara Zavislan, executive director of the Community Foundation of Harford County, said of the Dreshers.

The Community Foundation, which was founded in 2007, provides grants to Harford County organizations and helps individuals and families create endowments "to support the local causes that they care about the most," Zavislan explained.

"Emotionally supportive, financially supportive, they've always been there to help us build a strong foundation for the county," she said of the Dreshers.

Zavislan said she has had more interaction with Mrs. Dresher's children and grandchildren as representatives of the foundation.

"I can tell you that the times that I did get a chance to talk to her, she was just a wonderful woman, always happy always full of life," Zavislan said of Mrs. Dresher. "She loved her family, she loved her community, she loved having the opportunity to give back; she was just a really sweet woman."

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John Carroll officials announced in May that they received the largest gift in the school's history, a $600,000 multi-year grant to support the school's $10 million Lighting the Way capital campaign to renovate the academic wing and install two synthetic turf playing fields for the school's football stadium and girls varsity sports field.

As explained in the news release announcing the grant, $100,000 will be applied toward a science laboratory named in honor of the 50th wedding anniversary of Mrs. Dresher's son-in-law Anthony and Virginia Meoli, $100,000 will go toward the fields project and $600,000 will be used as a dollar-for-dollar matching grant to challenge alumni, parents, grandparents and friends of the school to give to the program.

The Bel Air-based Catholic school has received more than $1.5 million from The Dresher Foundation during the past 30 years, and seven members of the Dresher, and the related Meoli, Butcher and Roarty families, are graduates of the school.

Family members have also supported the school as parents, grandparents and members of the Board of Trustees. Susan Roarty, a 1995 graduate and one of Mrs. Dresher's grandchildren, works in the school's admissions department.

John Carroll celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, and O'Hara said The Dresher Foundation's contributions have helped "pave the way for the next 50 years in terms of supporting our facility enhancement."

"Their generosity has really helped major, major areas of school life and the vision for the future," he said.

The Town of Bel Air also received combined funds during 2013 from Dresher and the Greater Bel Air Community Foundation for improvements to Shamrock Park.

"The Dresher family are an extraordinary family, extraordinary in the sense of how they respected themselves and the community, and [they] set an example for philanthropy and supporting the community in which they live," Bel Air Town Administrator Jim Fielder said.

Fielder said the three generations also contribute "time and energy, not just funds, and that's significant to what The Dresher Foundation is all about."

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