A New Scholarship Pays Tribute to a Life of Generosity

From the July 2010 issue of Our Moment, the UConn Foundation's e-newsletter. 

Henry Kustosz sits at the dining table of his home in New Milford, on the same street where he was born several decades ago, to tell a story that changed his life.

He was a young man working the family dairy farm on Long Mountain Road, 300 acres that his grandparents had bought back when New Milford was primarily an agricultural community. In the late 1800s, tobacco, dairy and produce farming kept the state’s largest town humming. Phone and electric companies sprung up, newspapers were founded, and factories opened that made all manner of goods from paint to pottery. Kustosz spent his days milking cows and growing potatoes, and planned to do so until a better option presented itself.

That option materialized in the form of Katharine Mott Martin.

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She was married to George R. Martin, head of the legal department for American Cyanamid , the international chemical company headquartered in Manhattan. The Martins wintered on Park Avenue in Manhattan and summered up the road from Kustosz, in a palatial home, the Ledges. Their son, Bill, and Kustosz became fast friends, and Katharine Martin began hiring the local boy for odd jobs. Kustosz’s outgoing personality, his sincerity and his industrious nature rapidly gained the Martin family’s respect.

One day in 1953, when Kustosz’s high school days were coming to an end, he was called into the Martin house. “We are prepared to loan you the money to go to college,” Katharine Martin told him.

He stood there, speechless from their generosity. George Martin shook his hand, Katharine Martin gave him a congratulatory kiss. Without any more fanfare, Martin then walked down Long Mountain Road to speak to Kustosz’s parents, who agreed to the deal.

Two years later, Kustosz graduated with an associate’s degree from UConn’s Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture. The Martins did not attend his graduation, but Katharine Martin called him to ask him to come down to the house. “We want to give you a graduation present,” she said.

When Kustosz arrived, Katharine Martin handed him a suitcase.

“And the other present is,” she said, “that you don’t owe us anything.”

Once again, Kustosz stood there in the Martin’s home, speechless from their generosity.

Henry Kustosz is a man who prides himself on paying his debts, but Katharine Martin would never hear of letting him pay her back. The Kustoszs have, though, found a way to repay them. They have bequeathed the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources $75,000 to fund the Susan N. and Henry M. Kustosz scholarship through the UConn Foundation.

The Martins' generosity didn’t stop with Henry Kustosz’s UConn tuition, however. Katharine Martin’s father had been a renowned engineering professor at Cornell University, and she knew Cornell also had a prestigious agricultural program. Kustosz was again called to the Martin house. Katharine Martin recommended that he consider attending Cornell in the fall. She promptly drove him to Ithaca—four and a half hours away—to make the arrangements. Still awed by the Martin’s continuing thoughtfulness, Kustosz embarked on yet another experience that would further enhance his education and enrich his life.

The Martins’ admiration and respect for Kustosz had grown into a close friendship that became the foundation for their generosity. When Henry Kustosz and Susan Noble married, the couple lived in the guesthouse on the Martin’s property. Some years later, the Martins persuaded the couple to join them in Paris, to stay in a countess’s house near the Plaza Athenee. It is a vacation that remains firmly planted in their memories, drawing forth even more stories about the Martins and their altruism.

Henry Kustosz went on to work in research and development for 25 years for the Nestle’ Company. Susan Noble Kustosz, a direct descendant of the original settlers of New Milford, worked for 30 years at Southern New England Telephone, now AT&T Connecticut. Married 52 years, they stayed active in their community and remained close friends with the Martins. And they never for a moment forgot the family’s many kindnesses.

Why are they giving back?

Henry Kustosz falls silent for a moment, and his eyes glisten.

“Because Mrs. Martin gave to me,” he says. “She changed my entire life.”

 For more information about supporting the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, please contact the UConn Foundation’s development department.

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