Skip to Main Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer Navigation
Give Now

Profiles in Giving

Pay It Forward

Sisters Elizabeth Bernstein and Scotti Romberg don’t know the name of the man who took a chance and helped their father nearly 100 years ago. But his kindness is something they will never forget.

On a fateful day in 1923, Frederick A. Romberg, A26, D29, (pictured at right) arrived in Medford ready to enroll as a Tufts undergraduate with almost no money in his pockets. His father, a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine, had brought the family to America when Romberg was two and earned only a modest income at their dry-goods store in West Haven, Conn.

To pay his tuition, Romberg would need a loan. He tried a local bank, but since he was young and from out of town, he was told that a reputable member of the community would have to cosign for him.

Though Romberg knew no one in Medford, when he left the bank he passed the office of a lawyer and decided to take a chance, Bernstein says. He walked in, introduced himself, and explained his situation.

“The lawyer said he seemed like a focused, determined young man,” she says. “So he agreed to cosign.” With that lawyer’s leap of faith, Frederick Romberg was able to become a Jumbo. He had his work cut out for him, though, taking on three jobs amid his studies to repay his loan. When everything was finally paid back, he returned to the lawyer’s office and asked how he could thank him for his generosity.

According to family lore, the lawyer responded, “Someday when someone else needs help, you help them.”

“That was it,” Bernstein says. “Do the same for someone else.”

Romberg took the lesson to heart. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he went on to Tufts School of Dental Medicine, the first step in a life of helping others. Scotti Romberg, who worked briefly as an assistant in her father’s office, says he took extra care to tend to his patients and lend a hand to others whenever he could.

“He was always so gentle and concerned with his patients’ health,” she recalls. “And he would help anyone. During the Depression, people had no money, so he would barter and accept anything for his services—sometimes a chicken or even a head of lettuce.”

Even outside of dentistry, Romberg made a point of doing as much as he could for others. In 1983 he established the Frederick A. Romberg Scholarship Fund, to provide assistance to Tufts dental students as they finish their studies and begin their careers. But when an unscrupulous financial advisor ran his savings into the ground, the fund was depleted. It remained dormant after his death in 1993.

When their mother passed away in 2007, leaving them a small inheritance, Romberg’s daughters seized the chance to make things right and used the money to replenish their father’s scholarship fund. It was their way of carrying out what he taught them—the lessons of that long-ago lawyer who gave without asking for anything in return.

Young dentists like Jeremy Plourde, E08, EG09, D13, now reap the benefits of such generosity. Plourde was selected for the Romberg Scholarship in recognition of his high achievement as a dental student. Now, as he begins practicing general dentistry in Maine, he says the financial boon has been invaluable, helping him pay down his debt as he gets his professional footing. And Frederick Romberg’s lesson is one he won’t soon forget.

“I hope I reach a point in my career where I can pay it forward myself,” he says.