George Wallerstein is a philanthropic conundrum. Son of German immigrants, the University of Washington professor has lived the modest life of a scholar, studying the stars for the past 50 years. He also has raised millions of dollars for the United Negro College Fund.
In more than 20 years, Wallerstein has amassed about $4.5 million for the fund, which supports minorities in higher education. In 1995, he established an endowment to create the Henry C. McBay research fellowship for professors. He has personally contributed $2.2 million.
Wallerstein grew up in New York City during the Great Depression, the son of a chemist father and a mother who took care of the family.
At 125 pounds, he was too small to play football in high school, so he started boxing. He won the senior class boxing award and aspired to compete in the Golden Gloves.
When his coach passed him over for another boxer, he went to Brown University in Rhode Island to get his bachelor's degree. While there, he became a boxing coach to African-American kids at a community center.
After college, Wallerstein joined the Navy to serve in the Korean War, then got his doctorate in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. In 1965, after a few years teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, he moved to Seattle to join the UW's three-person astronomy department.
So in 1995, Wallerstein created an endowment to provide research grants and named it the Henry C. McBay fellowship, after an African-American professor who headed the chemistry department at Morehouse College in Atlanta.