Iris Suber Legacy

Humble excellence and a lifetime of quiet generosity, one woman's gift opens up possibilities to dream big dreams.  Iris Suber was, to those who knew her well and to those who were only somewhat acquainted with her, a woman who exuded a sense of humble excellence in all aspects of her life. Never one to be self-aggrandizing, her bequest, through the Presbyterian Foundation, of a substantial gift to her church came as quite a surprise. "When we first announced the gift to our session they just kind of sat there,” shared Trinity Presbyterian Church's pastor, Rev. Dr. Hugh Hamilton. "The next meeting they came back and said, ‘We were just so overwhelmed, we didn't even have any questions,” Hamilton remembered.  "Iris wanted us to dream big, to really give people a chance to step out and try things that they didn't think they could try,” continued Hamilton. He has challenged the church's ministry teams with the question,‘ What have you been wanting and waiting to do, dreaming to do someday? Now is the time—let's put this money to good work.' "All of a sudden, we have this blessing to say, ‘we can do that.'  How freeing and exciting that is,” shared Hamilton.  Iris Suber was a private person. It was not that she did not reach out to people, but that she was never boastful nor did anything to call attention to herself. A schoolteacher for 30 years, Iris was typically found behind the scenes rather than in the limelight.

It was only after she passed away in 2009, at the age of 72, that the church members learned of her initial gift, of $500,000, established as the Trinity Endowment Fund. This fund is designated for mission, building and maintenance, and undesignated programs.  It was in her will that Iris left the second, larger gift, establishing the Iris Suber Memorial Fund with $4 million. "It is in keeping with Iris' wishes that her example would be one that others would hear of and ‘go and do likewise',” explained Ruth White, longtime friend and fellow member of Trinity Presbyterian. White is quick to add that her friend would not want the attention gathered by such a gift, but rather would hope that it would be an example for others to consider how they, too, might give. "She was a quiet person, but she could definitely speak her mind—she just was selective about how she did that,” explained White. As Iris progressed in her struggle with cancer it became clear that she would need to begin to prepare for how her estate would be dealt with after her passing. It was only then that she began to confide in White regarding these financial matters. "The way she dealt with her cancer was very much who she was as a person,” remembered White. "If you didn't know that she had it, and had been battling it since the 90s, you would not have known to look at her.” Iris did things properly, correctly, and tastefully, including planning her estate. "She would say, as she began to talk with me about her financial status, ‘I sure can't take credit for all of this,'” remembered White. Iris, an only child, had inherited much of her wealth from

her parents' estate. "When I think of how she handled that wealth—she never flaunted it, she quietly shared it with others, and she used it well,” said White. Iris Suber was a woman with an excitement for living that was evident to those around her. "She loved world travel and would go with organized groups led by our pastor emeritus and his wife,” explained White. "But you also can't talk about Iris without talking about many of her lady friends,” she continued. The group attended various shows and concerts, weekends away to the beach, as well as their regular weekly brunch after church. It was that love of life and a commitment to excellence that Iris exemplified in her work as the choir librarian, in her enjoyment of time spent with friends, and in the care with which she made her arrangements. "She really began to think about how she wanted the money to be used—to be more than just a fund that is sitting there, but to allow it to be used for meaningful ministry that would speak to the time and the needs at the time,” shared White. What Iris came up with was a fund that would help Trinity to become a ‘model congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA)' in the following areas:

  • Educating members on how to grow spiritually
  • Organizing and presenting opportunities so that members know how they can serve in the church and community
  • Encouraging members to become mentors and reach out to other members, to the neighborhood and to the community
  • Creating a spirit-filled congregation that is the workmanship of God
  • Creating a welcoming, pleasing and attractive church environment
  • Providing spiritually stimulating worship that glorifies God, grows disciples, and empowers us to serve others.
  • Educating about, and encouraging other members to contribute, to the Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation.

This description, according to White, is the result of months of searching, seeking and struggling with how to best convey her wishes for what the fund might accomplish. "The word that describes this process, and everything she was looking for, was excellence,” said White. "And that it would all be done to the glory of God.” It is a tall order for Trinity Presbyterian, but one that has the congregation and its leadership excited about the possibilities. "At this point we are just counting our blessings and thanking God for Iris' legacy as we wonder how we might be good and faithful stewards and glorify God with the way we serve people with this great gift, ”said Trinity's Pastor Hamilton.

Planning the Use of Generous Gift

What does a church do, when presented with a gift of staggeringly generous proportions? It is something that Trinity Presbyterian has had to work through "Iris was very clear that she did not want these monies to interfere with the regular giving of the congregation,” explained Trinity's pastor Hugh Hamilton. "She hoped that her inspiration would empower people to continue to give and enhance their own regular giving and  for those who might have the ability, to make similar type gifts,”   shared Hamilton. For the past six months Trinity has been preparing for how, once they announced the gift to the congregation, the monies might be used.  

The first step was to create a legacy committee. This committee is tasked with both the promotion of financial gifts and bequests to the church, but also with the ‘remembering' of the history of such gifts in the past. The legacy committee will assist the stewardship committee in regards to issues such as estate planning, as well as advise the session on how to best use the gifts from such bequests. "The committee has come up with guidelines and an application form—so now we are inviting people to start considering how we can use the gift,” explained Hamilton. His concern, and the concern of the donor as well as the legacy committee, was to create a process that would not be overly cumbersome and that would allow the money to be freed up to be used. For their guidance they are looking to a passage from scripture, 2 Corinthians 9:11-12: “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” "We consider it our task to help people equip others to do great works,” explained Hamilton. The gift, in addition to being financial, is also in modeling this type of generosity. "What a great statement for a very humble lady that many people did not know had this kind of gift to offer,” reflected Hamilton. She also, in addition to establishing the two funds, left her household to be sold, and all of its contents to be sold for the benefit of the youth program. As part of the renovation of the youth room the church had murals painted on the walls. In one small corner is a flower, an iris, a tribute to the woman whose gift made it possible. "It is a silent tribute to a wonderful lady who loved our church, our youth, and our community—who loved God and wanted to pull all those things together,” said Hamilton.

Last Published: March 26, 2013 10:57 AM