A giving spirit: Quiet and unassuming, Ray Sidney offers hope in cynical times

William Ferchland

Generous. Special. Intelligent. Supportive.

The list of adjectives for Ray Sidney, a former Google software engineer and emerging South Shore philanthropist, are plentiful after significant donations to Lake Tahoe Unified School District, Kahle Community Center and, on Thursday, BlueGo.

Sidney moved to Stateline after cashing in at Google when the company went public. The Harvard and MIT graduate who has a love for outdoor athletics has put money where his heart is with donations of $1.6 million to Douglas High School for its football field, $250,000 for the track renovation next to South Tahoe Middle School and $200,000 for an expansion at Kahle Community Center

On Thursday, Sidney announced a donation of $1 million to the BlueGo bus system to transport, for free, Stateline casino workers to and from the Carson Valley.

Donations of less money, but not less significant, have been made to the Tahoe Figure Skating Club for off-ice training equipment and ice time.

On a larger scale, Sidney’s real estate development company, Big George Ventures, so-named because he and his siblings call each other George, is a Diamond Puck sponsor of the South Tahoe Amateur Hockey Association.

Diamond Puck sponsorships are donations of $15,000 or more.

There are examples of other generosities.

Sidney’s donation was the catalyst for getting the track renovation off the ground, said Jim Tarwater, superintendent of Lake Tahoe Unified School District.

“I’m not surprised,” said Tarwater of Sidney’s most recent donation. “That guy is very humanistic.”

Tarwater said Sidney would take the time to analyze the project, considering its worth and the likelihood of making it a reality.

“He’s definitely very sharp,” Tarwater said.

Many have described Sidney as unassuming. Tarwater said he has a “quiet intensity.

“The kind of person you would say is just like a neighbor,” Tarwater said.

Daniel Stroock, a math professor at MIT, knows of Sidney’s kindness. Sidney, an alum of the 1995 class, donated to establish the Stroock-Hertz Fellowship in honor of the professor.

Reached by e-mail, Stroock wrote he was “greatly honored when (Sidney) chose to name a Hertz Foundation Fellowship after me.”

Stroock said he had a limited memory of Sidney in his classes, graduate level courses on mathematical analysis and probability theory.

“All I remember is that he was one of the non-mathematics students who have attended my classes and that, like many such students, he brought with him an interesting perspective,” Stroock stated.

Vicki Schussel, recreation coordinator at Kahle Community Center, also had kind words for Sidney, who donated money to expand gym facilities and replace cardio and weight machines.

“Ray is great,” she said. “He saw a need and talked to me about it and was willing to donate. It was something we’ve been thinking about for a long time. He’s just a very generous, supportive community member.”

Asked about Sidney’s donation to the transit system, Schussel said she wasn’t surprised.

“I just think it’s wonderful that he can help out different areas of our community,” she said.

Gabe Chavarin, operations manager for the Area Transit Management, is waiting for BlueGo’s board to direct him on the vehicles and routes needed to make Sidney’s donation work. As with others who feel the ripple effect of Sidney’s work, Chavarin was pleasantly perplexed.

“I was kind of shocked,” Chavarin said. “I said, ‘Yeah, all right.'”

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