Preservation buff leaves $6.5 million

By Stephen Beaven

For the late Art DeMuro, historic preservation was an avocation that he turned into a third career after he arrived in Portland 22 years ago and founded Venerable Properties.

DeMuro redeveloped old buildings, served 10 years on the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, worked closely with local historic preservation groups and quietly provided financial support along the way. He was a constant but understated presence in Portland’s preservation community.

But in the past year, and especially since his death from cancer in September, DeMuro’s commitment to the cause has come through with booming clarity.

DeMuro, who was 57, left more than $6.5 million to three Oregon preservation groups: $750,000 to Portland’s Bosco-Milligan Foundation, $500,000 to the Historic Preservation League of Oregon and $5.3 million to the University of Oregon’s Historic Preservation Program. He left $200,000 to help finance the Garden of Surging Waves, a city park proposed for Astoria. He also left substantial but undisclosed sums to the University of Notre Dame, his alma mater, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“It’s very apparent based on the dollars involved that this was a primary goal and mission of his life,” said Craig Kelly, DeMuro’s close friend and the president of Venerable Properties. “And he wanted to sustain it past his life.”

The gifts come at a difficult time for nonprofit preservation groups.

Cathy Galbraith, the executive director of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation, said the recession created a competitive market for fundraising, in which some donors have chosen to limit their giving to serious human services causes. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, overall charitable giving in the U.S. dropped from $172 billion in 2008 to $158 billion in 2009. The Bosco-Milligan Foundation was forced to cut staffing in 2009, eliminating one position and moving everyone else to part-time hours.

“It’s challenging,” Galbraith said. “Things were fairly good until the recession. At the very end of 2008, it’s like a faucet shut off.”

DeMuro, in making his gift to Bosco-Milligan Foundation, which is based at Southeast Portland’s Architectural Heritage Center, requested that the organization pay off its mortgage and other debts and use the approximately $500,000 that remains for an endowment.

Fred Leeson, president of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation, said the foundation plans to match DeMuro’s gift with a $500,000 fundraising campaign to double the endowment.

The Historic Preservation League of Oregon will use $350,000 of its gift for its endowment and $150,000 to pay for operations and development, said executive director Peggy Moretti.

The University of Oregon is receiving $2.5 million on top of DeMuro’s pledge of a $2.8 million gift last year. In announcing that gift, the university said the money would be used to fund the Venerable Chair in Historic Preservation, to offer new courses in Portland and Eugene and to establish a new concentration in green preservation.

Kelly said he is sorting through DeMuro’s complex estate to determine how and when each of the gifts will be funded. It will take “years to work out the kinks in the system to be able to satisfy these obligations,” he added.

But Kelly added that DeMuro’s low-key demeanor belied his business accomplishments. “My friend was very private and very quiet and he was substantially more successful than anyone realized,” Kelly said.

Moretti said that waiting for the funds from DeMuro’s estate isn’t an issue. She’s grateful for his gift and his friendship.

“Anything we received from him we are honored to,” she said. “I would trade it all in to get Art back.”

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