The Gift That Gives Back

A charitable remainder trust provides income while you need it, and supports Reed’s mission.

By Randall Barton | February 6, 2020

The large rental triplex that John Aikin Cushing ’67 and his wife, Dr. Judith Bayard Cushing, owned in Southwest Portland had appreciated greatly in 25 years. To sell it would incur a big tax hit, and in any case they planned to give the property to Reed when they died. But John and Judith were getting tired of being in the rental business.

Then—just days before returning to campus for his 50th reunion—John read about how Reed grad Taliesin Namkai-Meche ’16 had died protecting two teenage girls from a knife-wielding maniac on a Portland MAX train. And this horrible tragedy sparked an idea.

John grew up in Corvallis, where his mother was on the faculty at Oregon State University, and planned to study physics at CalTech or MIT. Then his mother introduced him to a Reed grad in OSU’s physics department, Vernon H. Cheldelin ’37, who said: “You’re going to study the same physics as an undergraduate, no matter where you go. But if you go to Reed you might also learn how to write and how to read and think. You might learn something about other things besides physics.” 

John won a fellowship to Reed and arrived on campus in 1963. The nation was in tumult. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November, plunging the campus into a deep gloom. The war in Vietnam escalated and students stepped up their protests. Meanwhile, the infamous Subversive Activities Control Board, a government agency established during the Red Scare to root out communism, set up shop in Portland and subpoenaed suspected communists, among them Don Hamerquist ’62, who put out a local newspaper. The newspaper was shut down and huge demonstrations followed. 

John loved being a student at Reed, particularly his class in classical mechanics with Prof. Nick Wheeler ’55 [physics 1963–2010]. “I was very happy at Reed,” he says. “It opened my eyes.”

After Reed, John completed a PhD at Brown University, then took a computing job at Cornell University and eventually directed the Plato IV Project in computer-assisted instruction. In 1976, he accepted a position as the director of computer services at The Evergreen State College, and later joined the faculty until he retired in 2007.

Though Judith is a graduate of The College of William and Mary, she shares John’s devotion to Reed. They decided the time had come to give their triplex to Reed, and wished to recognize Taliesin’s willingness to stand up for and protect others.

“Reed has a well-earned reputation for cultivating graduates who are able to question orthodoxies and who speak and act when they see injustice,” John said. “I was glad that spirit was alive, even when it has tragic consequences. I felt pride that a recent Reed graduate, whom I did not know, had been one of those who stood up for the people being harassed.”

The Cushings worked with Reed to establish a charitable remainder trust into which they transferred their triplex. Reed, as trustee, sold the triplex, and now directs a portion of the proceeds to the Cushings as income for the rest of their lives. “For the Cushings and for Reed, this is a win-win,” says Kathy Saitas, senior director of gift planning, “it’s hard to imagine a more advantageous way to support the place you love.” The Cushings avoid paying capital gains taxes on the triplex, receive a significant tax deduction, no longer have the headaches of property ownership, yet they still receive the income stream that rents once provided. What's more, when the trust terminates, the remaining trust assets will come to Reed for three purposes outlined by the Cushings. 

Part of the funds will be used to endow an existing scholarship in Taliesin’s name. Another portion of the trust will go to the John Aikin and Judith Bayard Cushing Student Research Fund to help students buy tools and equipment, or fund travel to carry out their thesis research. John remembers needing funding for equipment required to complete his thesis research at Reed. Lastly, the John Aikin and Judith Bayard Cushing Scholarship will be established to provide financial aid for students who are juniors or seniors.

“I had a few loans when I left Reed,” John says, “but it wasn’t an insurmountable barrier. But these days it’s not uncommon for students to leave college with $50,000 or $100,000 of debt. Most institutions focus their aid on entering students and give less to juniors and seniors. I feel really bad about the extent to which students these days are in debt when they leave college.”

Tags: Alumni, Giving Back to Reed, Institutional