By the time John Kovach moved to Baltimore in 1958 to join Alex Brown and Sons, he had already forged an unlikely but inspiring path to success. One of six children born in the small coal-mining town of Curwensville, Pennsylvania, John began his career working in a shoe store owned by his father, a Czechoslovakian immigrant with little formal education. Determined to improve his prospects, Kovach went on to earn a degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. After serving in the Army in Japan during World War II, he received his masters from Harvard University’s School of Business. By that time, John had met his wife, Helen, the daughter of Sicilian immigrants, and together they settled in Oklahoma, where John was the financial vice president at a petroleum corporation. They soon moved again, with their two sons, this time to Baltimore City. In less than a decade, John would be made senior partner at Alex Brown.
“Dad was surprised by his own wealth,” says his son Ron, “and wanted to use it to support institutions and programs that reflected what he cared about in life.” In 1999, John and his wife opened the John G. and Helen H. Kovach Fund at the Baltimore Community Foundation. A significant focus of the fund early on was Govans Presbyterian Church where John would become a deacon. He and his wife were also generous supporters of scholarship funds, reflecting their commitment to help low-income families like theirs make their way in the world through education. Recipients of these BCF funds included scholarships for students at St. Ambrose Catholic School, the Children of Slovakia Foundation, and the International Youth Foundation. As Ron explains, “My father and mother were trying to reach out to people who could not afford an education but showed potential.”
Ron loved growing up in Baltimore’s Homeland neighborhood, first attending Roland Park Public School through 8th grade and then Friends School. Ron also remembers the fun he had on Saturday afternoons watching movies with friends at the Senator Theater and visiting the Gwynn Oak amusement park. “Dad thought Baltimore was a great place to live, particularly because of the rich diversity of the city’s immigrant communities,” Ron recalls. “He loved walking through his favorite Greek and Italian and other ethnic neighborhoods.” Much to the delight of the kids, the family also took a trip to Disneyland.
“My father had a wanderlust which I inherited,” Ron admits. After graduating from Friends, Ron attended Dickinson College and then moved to Washington DC to start a job at the Environmental Protection Agency. He loved his work. It was also where he met his future husband, Chad Sandusky. They were married in 2010. Ron’s parents grew to love Chad like another son, and the four of them traveled the world together. “We went everywhere, from China to Costa Rica to Alaska and across Europe and Southeast Asia,” says Ron. Together, they visited his father’s ancestral hometown of Palin in the Czech Republic, as well as a small town in Sicily where his mother’s family was from.
“Dad was surprised by his own wealth and wanted to use it to support institutions and programs that reflected what he cared about in life.”
Over the years, the family fund at BCF would reflect Ron’s parents’ appreciation for those who cared for them in their later years. They continued to support Govans Presbyterian Church, as well as the University of Maryland Medical System Foundation and Gilchrist Hospice Care. After Mr. Kovach died of cancer in 2004, Helen carried on the family’s giving tradition, providing grants to disaster relief efforts, including support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as end-of-life care institutions such as the Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Fund helped build a new chapel at the University of Maryland hospital and bought a desperately needed MRI machine. Later on, Helen was diagnosed with dementia, but kept the Fund’s focus on medical and hospice care institutions. Among those grants: a scholarship fund for the employees of Blakehurst, an independent living retirement community where Helen resided for a time before she developed dementia.
Ron has had to struggle recently with the pain of losing his mother in 2019, after losing his husband only the year before. They had been together for nearly 40 years when Chad died.
Having served the Baltimore philanthropic community for nearly half a century, BCF’s donor services staff work with many individuals like Ron, as a family’s charitable legacy passes from one generation to another. Ron has not yet decided his long-term giving plans for the family fund at BCF, but he is carrying on the family’s charitable giving legacy, with recent gifts to Gilchrist’s music therapy program for hospice patients, and to Capital Caring, a hospice organization that helped both his husband Chad and mother Helen. He has also started to volunteer his time in community-based organizations in Washington D.C. And, Ron continues to take pleasure in travel, with group trips this past year to Russia and the Galapagos. He is looking forward to the day he can reschedule a trip—unfortunately recently canceled due to the park closure—to take Chad’s son and grandson to visit the new Star Wars park at Disneyland. ν