Lyme Academy receives $1.1 million gift

Old Lyme — A $1.1 million gift from the estate of Diana Atwood Johnson to the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts — one of the largest gifts in the college's history — will support students and the preservation of a 19th century building on campus, the University of New Haven announced this week.

Atwood Johnson, who served as a member of Lyme Academy's board of trustees, guided the college through its accreditation process and later its merger with the University of New Haven, died in January. She ran the Old Lyme Inn until 2001 and was an advocate of open space conservation and an avid birder and photographer.

"Diana Atwood Johnson was a pillar in our community and involved in every element of Lyme over the past three decades," Todd Jokl, dean of Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, said in a statement. "Her generosity over those decades in both her leadership and her generous financial contributions will enable us to provide support for our diverse student body, attract the strongest art students to Lyme, and continue to support our campus buildings. Most of all, Diana leaves a legacy that will remain a strong part of this institution in perpetuity."

A half-million dollars will benefit the Sill House, a historical building on campus that Atwood Johnson was very fond of, Jokl said. The endowed fund will allow the college to support keeping the building, designed by Samuel Belcher more than 200 years ago, in top condition, he said.

The gift supports a $500,000 endowment to support minority students. Jokl said bringing diverse students and perspectives to campus was very important to Atwood Johnson and also is critical to the college.

The gift further will provide $100,000 toward funding the Diana Atwood Johnson Leadership Award. The college annually gives this award to a student "who shows great promise and exemplifies the values of the institution," according to a news release from the University of New Haven.

The award is an honor and provides a stipend to support graduating students as they go on to do wonderful things, whether it's continuing their education or establishing a studio practice, Jokl said.

"Her bequest will continue to support that in perpetuity," he said.

Atwood Johnson's gift is the second-largest single gift that Lyme Academy has ever received, according to Jokl.

"Her role in Lyme was extraordinary, and she touched every single part of this campus and this school for the majority of its history," Jokl said. "Beyond her financial philanthropy, she was just a person who made this school a success, and she's missed."

With Atwood Johnson's gift, Lyme Academy has received nearly $3 million over the past five months, which goes a long way in helping the college toward its capital campaign. Jokl said the gifts speak to the support for the college and that people who are involved in the institution see its potential and what students are capable of — and like what they see.

Overall, the college has raised just under $7 million toward its $10 million campaign, which began in 2015 and will end in 2020, he said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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