Villagers’ Theatre In National Spotlight For 30-Year-Old Donation From Donald Trump


Donald Trump donated $250 each for this seat and a seat named for his then-wife Ivana during the Villagers’ Theatre 1987 capital fundraising campaign.

A $500 donation made by Donald Trump to the Villagers Theatre during a 1987 fundraising campaign has garnered some national attention in the form of a July 13 Washington Post story.

The story, headlined, “We found something that a charity named in honor of Donald Trump. It is a chair,” was spurred by the Post’s ongoing investigation into claims by Trump of donations of millions of dollars out of his own pocket to charities. According to the article, out of more than 200 organizations contacted, reporters could find only 13 groups that reported personal gifts from Trump.

“And so far, this chair — Seat E-9 at the Villagers Theatre in Somerset, N.J. — is the most substantial thing The Post has found, named after Trump because of a gift he gave,” the article reads.

The Post has stepped up its coverage of Trump since the presumptive Republican presidential nominee banned its reporters from his public events.

Actually, Trump made two $250 gifts at the time, one in his name and one in the name of his then-wife, Ivana. Both donations are also in the name of Trump Castle, a casino Trump owned at the time. And, technically, the Villagers’ Theatre is not a charity, although it is a non-profit organization.

The gifts are commemorated in plaques on the back of two seats, Ivana’s on seat E-7, and her husband’s on seat E-9.

Bill Grippo led the fundraising effort 30 years ago to build a new home for the theater. Started in 1960 in a barn, the theater had been housed since 1980 in another building that in 1987 ran afoul of new fire regulations.

Grippo recalls that he was approached by three members of the Villagers’ board of directors one day, who told him they needed his help – he had already established his reputation as a formidable fundraiser – because the township had shut down their building.

What resulted was a multifaceted campaign that netted more than $225,000 and resulted in the construction of what is now the Villagers Theatre, Grippo said.

At one point during the campaign, Grippo said, he got the idea to sell naming rights to seats in the new theater.


The seat named after Ivana Trump.

“I said I will sell seats for $250 each,” Grippo said. “I bought the first seat.”

“One of the target areas I suggested were casinos,” Grippo said. So, as he had with other corporations in the area, Grippo sent letters to owners of the Atlantic City casinos, Trump included.

“I never met him, I just sent him a letter,” Grippo said of Trump. “There was nothing political about it.”

“I had forgotten he even bought two seats,” Grippo said.

The campaign, Grippo said, “was a great effort by the community.”

Grippo is now spearheading another fundraising effort, the Yellow Brick Road campaign, through which donations are being sought to replace the theater’s aging HV/AC system. (The Franklin Reporter & Advocate is the media sponsor of the campaign). Donors purchase engravable yellow bricks, which will be used to build a “yellow brick road” around the theater.

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