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.
Here's a full timeline of how our foundation came to be:
1920: Forman Acton is born in Salem City. 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.
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.
Present: With the generosity of Dr. Acton, the Foundation has committed more than half a million dollars 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