For generations the Mugar family has been committed to giving back to the community and has actively supported the New England community through their support of annual community events and through generous gifts to area museums, educational institutions and hospitals.
A strong sense of philanthropy began in the Mugar family with patriarch Stephen P. Mugar, founder of the Star Market chain of supermarkets. Before he became successful, he was never able to go to college, therefore he wanted to give most of his money to educational institutions. Stephen saw the values and benefits for those who went to college and he wanted to provide gifts to institutions that could help aid students. His focus was on institutions in the Greater Boston area, especially those that catered to attracting and educating the less fortunate, less wealthy people, but to those who had talent and might be able to greatly contribute back to society. Stephen made several different gifts throughout the years in various amounts and in various names.
Over 50 years ago, Stephen Mugar made a gift to Colby Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire. Named after his wife, the Marian Graves Mugar Gallery, is housed inside the Sawyer Fine Arts Center at the college. The gallery hosts five major exhibitions and related public events each academic year.
In 1966, Stephen made a substantial gift to Boston University. At the time the University did not have a central library and serving as a trustee, he saw a need for such a building. The Mugar Memorial Library was built in memory of his parents Sarkis and Vosgitel and is still serves as the main humanities and social sciences library at Boston University.
Following Boston University, a flurry of gifts were made to various education institutions. In 1965, a $500,000 gift was made to Boston College to construct a new science building for their expanding science programs. Higgins Hall was named after Stephen’s close friend John Parker Higgins. In 1997 the college renovated and expanded the building to provide students additional research tools and labratories to experiment in. In 1966, Brandeis University received a $500,000 gift to construct a research center. The Brown Social Science Center was named after another close friend of Stephen, Benjamin Brown.
Stephen also made a contribution of $500,000 to Suffolk University and made a similar gift to Northeastern University. The Mugar Life Sciences Building at Northeastern is home to the Psychology Department, the Biology Department, the Chemical Engineering Department and the College of Pharmacy. He also made a large gift to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a special study of farming the oceans for food, which he believed was a strong possibility and a great deal of scientific research was done as a result of that. A contribution of $500,000 was made to Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, which focused on international studies for diplomatic training to serve the U.S. Government throughout the world.
Stephen also made contributions to Mass General Hospital and other institutions but his primary interest was with education. Throughout the 1970s he continued to make gifts to many other educational institutions and to serve on the boards of some of the colleges. He passed away in 1982.
Stephen’s son, David Mugar, has continued the philanthropic efforts his father began. While Stephen focused on educational institutions, David’s gifts focused on more civic oriented events. One of those events being, Boston’s Fourth of July concert and fireworks on the Esplanade has entertained crowds for decades. Additionally, many families flock to the Boston Common every New Years Eve for the Mugar Family Fireworks event, which was created in 1998.
David has made several gifts in memory of his parents. One most recognizable is the Mugar Omni Theater at the Boston Museum of Science, which opened in 1987 and continues to be one of the most powerful education tools at the museum. For over 25 years the theater has attracted an audience of more than 17 million viewers. David has also given significant gifts to the WGBH Educational Foundation, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Massachusetts General Hospital and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
While David does understand the impact of institutional philanthropy in such areas as education and the arts, he also feels strongly about the personal touch. In his own words, “I want to do things that will affect the people in New England especially, and I like to do things that are non-exclusionary, so that they’re available to everyone.” He created The Mugar Foundation in 2012, which will primarily be funded upon his death. The Mugar Foundation will recognize “random acts of kindness” and reward those doing the most to help others. The Foundation will also reach out to those who are in need of financial assistance. David states, “Random acts of kindness are a wonderful way to applaud the human spirit, small things that happen in society. Or if someone needs a helping hand – if someone needs a break. Basically, recognizing the achievement of mankind in everyday ways. If you’re a good person and you reach out to help someone, to me that’s deserving of support.”