Forman Sinnickson Acton was born in Salem City and he went on to change the world.
Born on August 10, 1920, he began his education in the Salem City school system before attending private boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy and college at Princeton University. He graduated with two degrees in engineering toward the end of World War II, during which he served in the Army Corps of Engineers and worked on a team involved in the Manhattan Project.
After his service, he earned his doctorate in mathematics from Carnegie Institute of Technology, helped the Army develop the world’s first anti-aircraft missiles and became a pioneer in the evolving field of computer science.
Acton conducted research and taught at Princeton from 1952 to 1990, during which time he wrote textbooks on mathematics at his cabin on Woodmere Lake in Quinton Township, Salem County. When he turned 80, he joined the Lower Alloways Creek pool to stay in shape, swimming six days a week for 14 years.
He died on February 18, 2014, in Woodstown, New Jersey, but not before he anonymously donated thousands of dollars toward scholarships for Salem City School District students, some of whom are just now graduating college. Before he passed, he made it clear to friends and confidants that he wanted these students to have access to the incredible educational experiences he enjoyed.
Eight months after his passing, the Forman S. Acton Educational Foundation was officially incorporated to ensure that all Salem youth also have a chance to change the world. Read on below to learn about important others who helped the Foundation grow.
Here's a full timeline of how the Foundation came to be:
1920: Forman Acton is born at 55 Oak Street in Salem City and grows up at 101 West Broadway. He is family friends with Herb Fithian, who grows up nearby in Bridgeton. The two remained lifelong friends.
1940-1990: Forman becomes a pioneering engineer, computer scientist and professor at Princeton University. He’s also smart with his money, making millions on investments. He retires from teaching in 1990 and lives the rest of his life humbly in Salem.
Summer 2009: Forman is now 88, and he asks Herb to be executor of his will, which means that Herb’s legally responsible for sorting out Forman’s finances after he passes away. Forman tells Herb he’d like to donate money to help children from his hometown, but he’s not sure how.
August 2009: Herb suggests that his daughter, Kathryn Fithian Markovchick, help Forman plan how to benefit Salem youth. Kathryn has a PhD in education and is president of an education non-profit in Maine at the time, and she suggests immediately funding college scholarships. The two talk and write to each other extensively over the next several years.
May 2010-January 2014: Forman donates anonymously to help Salem students, providing an annual $10,000 scholarship to a select Salem High School graduate.
February 2014: Forman passes away without coming to a final decision on how to help Salem’s youth. His existing will, drafted years prior by his attorney, proposes to put money in a trust, with Herb as sole trustee. Herb and the estate’s attorney find that if they do that nearly half the money would be spent on taxes. Knowing Forman would have wanted more of his money to help children, Herb and Kathryn propose a plan that better reflects Forman’s wishes.
October 2014: A NJ state court agrees Forman’s wishes would be better honored by creating a foundation that could fund programs that benefit Salem’s youth and continue providing scholarships to students. The court also honors Forman’s wish to begin to support students at a very young age. Herb and his attorney select an initial board of trustees.
December 2014: The foundation issues its first scholarships in December 2014, and continues to fund scholarships for students Forman supported when he was alive.
January 2015: The board of trustees reorganizes, bringing on South Jersey natives with expertise in non-profits and education over time.
February 2015: Foundation awards first grants, funding programs at Salem City School District, including teacher and administrator training and sending students to the IB Conference in Spain.
December 2015: Foundation makes grant to United Way of Salem County for computer lab.
April 2016: Foundation creates Acorn Fund, an early college savings program for all students who live or attend public school in Salem City. It’s one of the first programs of its kind in the country.
August 2016: Foundation funds a dual credit program with Salem Community College, allowing Salem students to earn college credit while attending high school.
April 2017: Funds are provided to support Salem High School students to particpate in a regional Junior Achievement Program.
May 2017: For the third summer, the Foundation provides funding for Salem youth to attend Rowan University’s summer STEAM Academy. Students in grades 8-12 are given opportunities to experience college life, learn leadership skills, learn about career exploration and take a college science class. Students in grades 10-12 live on campus.
June 2017: Community grants are awarded to One Village Alliance, Stand Up for Salem and It's A Girl's World to support attendance of Salem students in summer and after-school programming.
Fall 2017: The Foundation now supports 20 active Forman Scholars at campuses across 6 states and the District of Columbia.
May 2018: The Foundation continues to provide support for Salem students to attend the presitgious Rowan University's STEAM Academy and to attend other regional summer program opportunities.
July 2018: The Foundation has enrolled a total of 758 children from Salem in the Acorn Fund, our college savings account program.
Fall 2018: The number of scholars continues to grow as the foundation now supports 25 active Forman Scholars and has just announced the addition of 8 new scholars from the senior class of Salem HIgh School. These students will be heading off to college in the fall of 2019.
April 2018: The Foundation increases scope of scholarship eligibility and criteria to expand inclusivity and allow more students to apply and earn opportunities.
June 2018: The Foundation announces Graduation Bonuses, a new opportunity for eligible Acorn Fund account holders to earn up to $1,000 towards college expenses.
September 2018: Herb Fithian, a lifelong friend of Dr. Acton, passes away at the age of 94. Herb is credited, in part, with the creation of the Foundation and helping Dr. Acton’s legacy live on to what it is today.
January 2019: The Foundation welcomes its new President and Chief Executive Officer, Larry Van Meter. It also created the Forman Youth Board designed for students to make an impact on the community and channel their efforts in meaningful ways.
February 2019: The Foundation sets a new record with the accomplishment of more than 800 children enrolled in an Acorn Fund college savings account.
May 2019: The Foundation continues to provide funding for Salem youth to attend various programs including Rowan University’s summer STEAM Academy, Rowan University Center for Access, Success, and Equity, One Village Alliance and Girl’s World (STEM Mentoring Program).
June 2019: After standing tall and proud for nearly 600 years, New Jersey’s oldest and largest tree, the Salem Oak, sadly fell. The Acorn Fund is named after the thousands of acorns that have fallen from the Oak’s branches over the years. June 2019 also marked when Acorn Fund applications reopened with a brand new look and feel.
December 2019: The number of graduates continues to grow as the Foundation sees its 12th Forman Scholar successfully earn their college degree.
Present: With the generosity of Dr. Acton, the Foundation has committed more than $900,000 in college scholarships and more than $1 million in grants to benefit Salem's youth.
To read more about Forman's life, please visit the links below:
Wikipedia: Forman S. Acton
Princeton News: Pioneer in computing dies
Philadelphia Inquirer: A New Jersey son's rich legacy of learning
The Adam blog: A Cool and Righteous Dude
South Jersey Times: Forman Sinnickson Acton obituary
Others Who Helped The Foundation Grow:
Herb Fithian was close friends with Forman S. Acton and in many ways, is responsible for the very creation of the Forman S. Acton Educational Foundation. In 2009, Forman asked Herb to be the sole trustee of his estate. He told Herb he’d like to have his money support educational opportunities for children who were as bright as he was but didn't have the same financial backing. At the time, Forman wasn’t sure how to do it. Herb suggested that his daughter, Kathryn Fithian Markovchick, help Forman craft a plan to benefit Salem youth.
For four years starting in 2010, Kathryn and Herb convinced Forman to donate anonymously to help Salem students by providing an annual $10,000 scholarship to a select Salem High School graduate. In 2014, when Forman passed away at age 93, he was still working with Kathryn for a final decision on how to help Salem’s youth for the long-term. He acknowledged that Herb and Kathryn would be able to work it out after his passing.
Eventually, Herb and Kathryn decided that a foundation, rather than a trust, would be the best way to ensure Forman’s legacy lived on. In October of 2014, New Jersey courts agreed that Forman’s wishes would be better honored by creating a foundation independent of the Salem School System.
Herb passed away in September 2018 at the age of 94, but Forman Acton’s legacy lives on because of the support, guidance and lasting friendship he had with Herb Fithian.