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Tontine Dinner Honors Endowment Founders
An endowment fund that mimics a 17th century investment scheme helps to serve the growing needs of The University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston.
Established in 1986 by donors from the UTDB Alumni Association, the $500,000 University of Texas Dental Branch Alumni Endowment Fund is commonly called the Founders Fund because of the 100 original founders. All the interest earned on the endowment goes toward the good of the school, including faculty development, scholarships, student research, student recruitment and more.
The founders of the endowment (originally 100, now 76 living) meet annually at the Founders Tontine Dinner. The tontine is named after Lorenzo Tonti, a Neapolitan banker who started such a scheme in France in 1653. Each subscriber paid a sum into the fund, and in return received dividends from the capital invested; as each person died, his share was divided among all the others. Originally, the last surviving subscriber received only the dividends; the capital reverted to the state upon his or her death and was used to fund public works projects.
At the Dental Branch, all the dividends go to the school, and the tontine is symbolically represented by a bottle of cognac, which is passed each year to a different “keeper.” The keeper then is responsible for setting up the next year’s ceremony. This year’s event, organized by “keeper” Ed Wong, D.D.S., class of 1956, represented the 21st meeting of the founders. When only 10 founders remain, the bottle of cognac will be opened, and they will toast all those who have gone before them. The endowment originated in connection with the Alumni Association’s commitment to host an annual Homecoming/Round-up event. A meeting between Sam Rogers, D.D.S.; Mit Sorrels, D.D.S.; Ted Weatherall, D.D.S.; and Jerry McClure, D.D.S., resulted in Bill Clitheroe, D.D.S., being selected to chair a campaign to raise $500,000. The bronze Founders Fund plaque, displayed at the entry of the dental school opposite the dean’s office, was donated by Reeves Smith, D.D.S., class of 1949.
By Les Fullerton, D.D.S., Dental Branch