Surdna Foundation

  • New York


200 Madison Avenue
25th Floor
New York
New York
United States

About Us


The Surdna Foundation was established in 1917 by John Emory Andrus to pursue a range of philanthropic purposes.

John Andrus (1841-1934) was born in Pleasantville, New York, graduated from Wesleyan University and soon moved from teaching school to pursuing his talents as an investor and businessman. His primary operating business, the Arlington Chemical Company, manufactured typical medicines of the late 1800s and distributed them worldwide. Mr. Andrus' extraordinary skills, however, lay in finding and purchasing undervalued assets, usually in partnership with a knowledgeable operator. His holdings included several buildings and land in Minneapolis, Minnesota, large timber tracts in California, mineral-rich acres in New Mexico as well as significant land holdings in Florida, New Jersey and Alaska.

The son of a Methodist minister, Mr. Andrus was active as a lay leader of the Methodist Church. In his 60s, he was elected mayor of Yonkers, New York, followed by four terms in the U.S. Congress. He held long-term posts as a trustee of Wesleyan University and as a director of New York Life Insurance Company.

A devoted family man with eight children, he founded the Julia Dyckman Andrus Memorial in 1923 as a tribute to his beloved wife. She had been orphaned as a child, and Mr. Andrus took the old Dyckman farm in Westchester County, New York and established an orphanage. Later, in 1953, his youngest child, Helen Benedict (as Chairman of Surdna), built the John E. Andrus Memorial, a retirement home for 200 elderly residents on land adjacent to the Julia Dyckman Andrus Memorial. She and the Foundation thereby completed his expressed wish that his legacy provide "opportunity for youth and rest for old age." In the early 1970s, the board of the Julia Dyckman Andrus Memorial shifted its programmatic emphasis to serve as a residential treatment, special education and diagnostic center for emotionally disabled children.

Family stewardship of Surdna over the years has been informed by Mr. Andrus' values: thrift, practicality, modesty, loyalty, excellence and an appreciation for direct service to those in need. These values have been applied both to oversight of the two Memorials and to more general grant programs. In 1989, the third and fourth generations of the Andrus family on the Surdna board established programs in Environment and Community Revitalization and decided to enlarge the professional staff to broaden the Foundation's effectiveness. In 1994, programs in Effective Citizenry and the Arts were added. The Nonprofit Sector Support Program was added in 1997 to address crosscutting issues affecting the sector.