Charles Sterne III, 74, an effective and valued fund-raiser at Curtis Institute of Music, a lifelong camper, and an enthusiastic hiker who traversed much of the Appalachian Trail, died Sunday, Jan. 9, of cancer at his home in Wyndmoor.
As director of principal gifts and planned giving for 27 years at Curtis, the 97-year-old private music conservatory on Rittenhouse Square, Mr. Sterne helped board members and senior management shape the school of about 150 students into a more modern world-class destination for exceptional musicians of all ages.
Tasked with fulfilling the school’s promise of full merit-based tuition scholarships for every student, Mr. Sterne created and led major fund-raising campaigns that boosted the endowment from $68 million in 1993 to $220 million in 2020.
“His work helped transform our school and contributed significantly to our long-term financial stability,” Curtis officials said in an online tribute.
Mr. Sterne was so respected at Curtis that colleagues, upon his retirement in 2020, named the library’s first-floor reading room, one of his favorite haunts, the Sterne Reading Room. In making that announcement, school officials noted his generosity, kindness, and optimism. “But most importantly,” they said, “Chuck was our friend.”
Mr. Sterne earlier worked as a vice president for financial and estate plans at Philadelphia’s BNY Mellon investment bank and as director of finance and secretary-treasurer for the Arizona-based International Foundation for Education and Self-Help.
At Curtis, Mr. Sterne initiated funding projects that strengthened instructional programs and improved campus facilities as well as sustained scholarships. Among other campaigns, he created a Founder’s Society of estate donors in 1993 that numbers 183 members, and raised funds to build the Lenfest Hall student residence in 2011.
To balance his time in the office, Mr. Sterne often walked in the woods. A camper since he was 12, he saw nearly every vista in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and trod many turns on the Appalachian Trail from southern Georgia to New England.
He spent dozens of summers at Camp Kabeyun on Lake Winnipesaukee in Alton Bay, N.H., first as a young camper and then as a counselor and later chairman of its board of trustees. He arranged hikes for campers and others, making friends and taking photos wherever he walked, and was delighted when his grandson spent his first summer at Kabeyun last year.
He adopted trail names: Silver Cloud for his plentiful white hair and Trail Dad for his advanced age and fatherly demeanor. “He had a way of wanting to get behind people,” said his daughter Emily Sterne Shebesta. “He was about empowerment and support.”
Born March 25, 1947, in Philadelphia, Mr. Sterne graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1965 and Pennsylvania State University in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Always a meticulous organizer with an eye on the future, he went on to create worry-free financial plans for himself, his family, and anyone in need.
“The word mentor keeps coming up when we talk to people,” said his daughter.
He married Gretchen Klein and they had daughters Emily and Carly. After a divorce, he married Eileen Marolla in 1996, and they traveled to Europe and the Galápagos Islands, hiked (of course), and enjoyed their friends and dogs in Wyndmoor.
Mr. Sterne collected fine art but also amusing rubber stamps that he blotted on the countless letters he wrote to family and friends. He liked to take photos of other hikers, trail signs he came upon to mark his journeys, and later the nurses who cared for him.
He kept his attic as tidy as his office, used the same barber for 50 years, and listened to Bach as well as Britney Spears and Emmylou Harris. He served on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown.
“To me he was a father and trusted friend,” wrote his daughter Carly in a tribute. “He is the ocean, the mountain, the big oak tree, and the butterfly.”
In addition to his daughters, wife, and former wife, Mr. Sterne is survived by two grandchildren, a sister, former wife Sandra Lidz,, and other relatives.
Services were Wednesday, Jan. 19.
Donations in his name may be made to Camp Kabeyun, P.O. Box 325, Alton Bay, N.H. 03810.