By Ellen Wulfhorst
(Reuters) - A small private prep school in Pennsylvania has received a $100 million gift from an alumna, one of the largest ever gifts to a U.S. independent secondary school, officials said on Thursday.
The gift to Mercersburg Academy comes from Deborah J. Simon of Indianapolis, a 1974 graduate, and the Deborah Joy Simon Foundation, said school spokesman Wallace Whitworth.
She is the daughter of the late Melvin Simon, founder of what is now called Simon Property Group Inc. The giant commercial real estate company holds interests in hundreds of properties, many of them shopping centers and malls.
In a statement, Simon said the school is "dedicated to bringing out the best in what each student has to offer."
The donation, the largest ever to Mercersburg, will go towards financial aid and faculty support, Whitworth said.
Yearly tuition at Mercersburg is just over $50,000, and roughly half the students get some financial aid, he said.
Well-known alumni include actor Jimmy Stewart, former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and actor Benicio Del Toro.
The school, founded in 1893 and located on 300 acres in south central Pennsylvania, has 435 boarding and day students.
Other large gifts to U.S. independent schools include a 2007 donation of $128 million to the George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania by Barbara Dodd Anderson, whose father was an early investor in Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.
In 1993, publisher Walter Annenberg gave $100 million to the Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey.
Simon is chairwoman of the board of the Simon Youth Foundation, which provides aid to high school students at risk of dropping out of school, and the Deborah Joy Simon Foundation provides charitable grants, Whitworth said.
(Editing by Andrew Hay)