READING — The Daily Times Chronicle has learned of the death of Reading benefactor Nelson Burbank, on August 29, at age 98. The unassuming financial supporter of many town projects, World War II veteran and 95-year resident of Reading is undoubtably the Town of Reading’s greatest philanthropist. He passed away after only aa short period of poor health.
In addition to the projects that bear his name, the Burbank Ice Arena and the Burbank YMCA, he supported numerous other Reading facilities including sports fields and parks in the town he chose to call home. Until recently Burbank was a frequent visitor at the Burbank arena to watch hockey games and ice shows and the arena held a Nelson Burbank night this past December on the 25th anniversary of the opening of the rink.
“The Town of Reading lost the ultimate Rocket,” said Carl McFadden, a close friend of Burbank. “The Burbank Arena alone contributed over three million to the town over 25 years. Even recently he was asking me how the football team was gonna do this year and if (James) Murphy, the freshman, was going to work out at quarterback. Reading lost a legend.”
Town Manager Bob LeLacheur, contacted this morning said ”the community lost a good friend but his and his wife’s legacy will live on for many generations of kids through their support of many of the town’s athletic and recreational facilities.”
Besides the rink donation, Burbank and his late wife, Rita, are perhaps most renowned for emerging in the late 90s with the hopes to build a new indoor pool for the town. What resulted was the erection in 1999 of the Burbank YMCA, which besides having both an indoor pool and outdoor splash pad, directly serves area residents through a multitude of initiatives that include licensed before and after school programs, youth and teen summer camps, and health and wellness programs.
The founder of the Burbank and Company investment firm, which Burbank sold in 1982 and is now part of Wells Fargo Advisors, has also personally contributed some $600,000 to rehabilitate Memorial Park and partially funded the lights at Hollingsworth Stadium.
And according to Reading resident Carl McFadden, a town native and youth sporting advocate who considers Burbank like a "grandfather" to him, those donations are just the ones people commonly know about.
""How humble and sincere he is," responded McFadden, when asked what strikes him most about the Juniper Road resident. "People don't know half the stuff he has done for the town." In an interview a couple years ago Burbank told the Chronicle after surviving 33 combat missions during World War II as a gunner in a B-29 Superfortress and then launching an unlikely but wildly successful career as an investment advisor and brokerage house founder, wanted to give back to a world that gave so much to him and his family.
"During my business career, the time was so demanding that I didn't do much for Reading. But after I retired, I did have that time, so I got involved,"
“I don't like to blow my own horn. It really wasn't a big deal. I felt bad for Reading High School athletes. They were heading out of town to get to practice," he responded when asked how he got involved with the Burbank Ice Arena initiative.
Burbank says his entire career in the investment sector can be solely attributed to blind luck, hard work, and one kind Reading resident, the late Harold Krogger, who bumped into the then 20-something-year-old U.S. Army Airforce veteran after the war.
At the time, Burbank was working for General Electric, a job he didn't have much passion for, but which the Reading resident recalled he was lucky enough to return to after serving overseas. Much to his surprise, Krogger, who had been forced to give up a flower business due to gas rationing during the war, encouraged Burbank to drop by Vance, Sanders & Company (now huge and nationally-renowned mutual fund firm Eaton Vance Corp.).
"Walking down Washington Street one day in Boston, I ran into Harold Kogger. I sold flowers for him in high school, and he asked me what I was doing. He told me during the war, he had work as an office supply and stationary man in Boston, and he was impressed with them," he recounted.
"He said, 'Nelson, I don't know what they do, but they're the best group of people I ever met. Pay them a visit and tell them I sent you. So to make a long-story short, I went to work for them, and it was one of the best things I ever did," he continued.
Admittedly, Burbank joined the ranks of Vance, Sanders & Company without even the slightest inkling of how stocks and bonds were traded, never mind how brokerage firms operate. And finding himself competing against a crop of Ivy League educated peers, the Reading resident, who moved to the community with his parents when he was three-years-old, believes he very well might have floundered had it not been for one core value instilled in him since he was a young boy: An uncompromising work ethic.
"It's funny, because I didn't even know what a prospectus was. But back then, if you wanted to work hard and make a lot of calls, you could do it. And I was lucky, because the only thing I really knew how to do was work hard," recalled Burbank, who repeatedly credited Krogger and his first employers for helping him find the vocation he was truly passionate about.
In 1953, after seven years at Vance, Sanders & Company, Burbank took a daring chance by borrowing $5,000 and launching his own brokerage firm, Burbank and Company.
At that point in his life, luck had again struck for the aspiring business owner, who had met his wife, Rita, after a friend begged him to go on a blind date in Lexington. Laughing at the entire arrangement, Burbank recalled his friend only asked him to join him on that date because he didn't have his own set of wheels to get there.
"She lived in Lexington, and a fellow I knew wanted to date her sister, but he didn't have a car. I did," he quipped.
According to Burbank, his late wife, who passed away in 2013 after 63-years of marriage, never once wavered in her support of his career aspirations, and that confidence, especially when he first branched out on his own, was pivotal.
"She just assumed it would all work out," he remarked matter-of-factly, glancing out of his office window towards a house at the corner of Juniper Road, where the couple first lived before the birth of their three children.
What resulted from that venture would bring applause and fortune Burbank's way.
Besides his flourishing business, which merged in 1982 with H.G. Edwards & Sons, he also served as Chairman of the Boston Stock Exchange's Board of Directors, Chairman of the National Association of Security Dealers (NASD) for New England and New York State, on the NASD's National Board of Governors, and on the Board of Directors for MassBank Corp., New England Digital Corp., and H.G. Edwards and Sons.
When asked why he decided to stay within his single-story ranch house, rather than use his considerable wealth to buy a similar sprawling mansion property, Burbank is quick to defend his preference for the residence he made with his wife in the community of his upbringing.
“What's right for one person isn't always right for another. I've just been content living a quiet life. And living a quiet life has its virtues," he commented.
According to friends like McFadden, it's exactly that kind of typical response from Burbank that makes him so unique.
He had such a successful business. He could have built a McMansion anywhere he wanted, but he didn't. He just stayed on Juniper Circle where he lived with his wife and raised his kids.
Editor’s Note: Arrangements have not yet been finalized but will be published in the Daily Times Chronicle.