Donor Stories

Giving to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is easy and doesn't require great wealth. Read how these donors were able to make meaningful contributions aligned with their values, life experiences, interests and the desire they have to help the greater Kalamazoo community thrive.

In His Words: Curtis Cleveland

Curtis Cleveland believes in the power of education to change lives and, with help from the Community Foundation, he has created a legacy that will support children for years to come. In 2000, starting with a gift of just $1,000, he created the Curtis A. Cleveland Endowment Fund, a Field-of-Interest Fund for education. Thanks to a series of regular contributions over five years, it was fully funded by 2005. And then he had an opportunity to use the fund to support a larger effort. Here is his story, in his own words.

I worked as an administrator for the Department of Defense with the Army Reserve in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. After I retired from the federal government, I was a substitute teacher in the public schools for 10 years. I've seen firsthand what happens when young people finish high school and what happens when they drop out. They can choose to go on for higher education or not, but they have to have at least a basic education so they can be contributing members of our society.

The opportunity for education was critical in my life. I certainly was helped along the way in grade school, high school and college. There are too many children in Kalamazoo County who just don't –– or for various reasons can't –– take advantage of the opportunities that are there for them through education, even with something like The Kalamazoo Promise. So I want to support community efforts that will reduce the dropout rate.

I first heard about the Community Foundation when I was a board member of CARES, the local nonprofit to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. Part of the seed money for CARES came from the Community Foundation. One day a person from the Community Foundation came and made a presentation to our board about establishing an endowment fund for CARES. I had just assumed these funds required many thousands of dollars to set up. But when I learned that you could establish an endowment fund for as little as $5,000, and that you could make contributions to build that amount over a number of years, I thought this would be a nice way to make a contribution to the community.

We set up my endowment fund in 2000 as a focused Field-of-Interest Fund for education. Initially, I had a pretty broad definition of education. I thought once it was fully funded it could be used for a scholarship, or teacher education or whatever else the Community Foundation thought was important.

Well, by 2005 it was fully funded and the Community Foundation's staff talked with me about how my fund could remain separate, but be pooled with other funds to leverage its influence. We ultimately set things up so my fund "mirrored" the Community Foundation's Spirit of Community Education and Learning Fund. This means their board determines what they see as the current greatest education needs of the community and then supports those efforts. This appealed to me because I know what my interests are now, but when I'm no longer here those interests may not be the best way to use these resources. This lets the definition of education and learning evolve over time.

I know I could just write checks each year to educational institutions or programs. But setting up a named endowment fund at the Community Foundation seemed like a better approach. If your name is on a fund then you're probably more inclined to keep on supporting it rather than saying to yourself, Oh, I guess I just won't write that check this year!

I also liked the idea that an endowed gift keeps on giving long after you are here. So this was a gift to the community that will support education today and essentially will continue to support education forever.

With this fund, I have peace of mind that the contributions I've made will be used very well. They are professionals at the Community Foundation, and they understand far better than I do how to best use the limited funds that are available. Also, part of that peace of mind comes from the transparency of their policies. They regularly publish financial statements declaring their assets and how much they're giving back to the community. This is very important to me because I know they're accountable.

I originally thought a fund at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation was reserved for the "usual suspects" –– community members with significant wealth. I didn't think I could establish an endowment because I didn't have the resources. But when I investigated, I found out that there was something I could do. I think there's a way for all of us to support Kalamazoo County through the Community Foundation. An endowment fund is just one of many ways. This happened to be the way that worked out best for me.

In His Words: Walter Goodrich

Siblings Elizabeth and Walter Goodrich

Frank and Hildegaarde Goodrich and their three children cam to Kalamazoo in 1949 for Frank's work at The Upjohn Company. To honor their memories, their children –– Walter, Elizabeth and Frank, Jr. –– established a Scholarship Fund at the Community Foundation. They had such a positive experience, they also established an Unrestricted Fund. Walter shares the family story.

We established the Frank and Hildegarde Goodrich Family Scholarship Fund in 2011. It was originally my sister’s idea. Elizabeth did most of the work to get it established, and it was her financial advisor in Kalamazoo who told her about the Community Foundation.

Scholarships from our fund help incoming junior and senior undergrad students and incoming or current grad students who are enrolled at one of four schools: Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, University of Colorado and University of Wisconsin.

My parents always said that the only way to make it in life was to get an education.

My dad was the first one in his family to graduate from college, and what he went through to achieve that was amazing. He would do anything to go to college even though he had absolutely no financial support and was on his own. He started college in the ‘30s during the Great Depression, graduating from UW with a degree in agriculture when he was around 50.

Our mother was valedictorian of her high school in a little town in Wisconsin. At the time she married my dad she was working at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company in Milwaukee and later became a full-time homemaker.

My late brother, Frank, graduated from WMU with a Bachelor of Business Administration followed by a career in sales management. Elizabeth also earned a business degree from Western. She went to MSU for a master’s degree in business education and then to UC for her doctorate, pursuing an academic career in business education.

I graduated from a private school in Wisconsin and then went to University of Wisconsin for a master’s degree in social work. That was all mainly because of my dad. I never would have gone to college without his influence.

We decided to create merit-based scholarships with no restrictions on academic majors when we established our fund. We know that many scholarships are focused on incoming freshmen, especially those who can demonstrate significant financial need. But the cost is usually higher for upperclassmen and grad students, and they often have even greater financial needs that can be less obvious. We didn’t think there were many scholarships like that, and we wanted to support students directly with a significant award that could really make a difference in their lives.

The Community Foundation was very patient and creative as we established this fund, allowing us to offer scholarships to students attending the various universities that were important in our lives. Elizabeth was won over by the staff, and I was very impressed with Juan Olivarez, who was the president and CEO at the time. I also believe they’re honest, and there aren’t many places that I trust, so that’s a real compliment!

In fact, we had such a positive experience that we went on to establish another fund: the Elizabeth, Walter and Frank Jr., Goodrich Fund. Unlike our family scholarship fund, it’s unrestricted. We are content with leaving its use to the wisdom of the Community Foundation’s staff and board in meeting the current needs of the community as time goes by.

In His Words: Warren Lawrence

Warren and Jackie Lawrence established a single Designated Fund at the Community Foundation in 2000. The fund they created supports three Kalamazoo County nonprofits they have been passionate about for years. Jackie recently passed away and Warren shared with us the story behind this unique arrangement.

We established the Warren and Jacqueline Lawrence Family fund as an endowed Designated Fund that would help us support the work of three specific nonprofits we had in mind. In talking with the Community Foundation's staff, we found out that a particular Designated Fund usually supports only one nonprofit. But they were flexible and creative and worked with us to achieve what we wanted.

So we have three individual nonprofits receiving support from our family fund at the Community Foundation: the Vicksburg Historical Society, Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation and the Kalamazoo Salvation Army. Many people don't realize the Community Foundation serves the entire county, not just Kalamazoo proper.

I learned about the Community Foundation's services when I was on the board of the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation. It was at that point I realized what was meant by the saying, an endowment is forever. To me, forever means multiple generations. Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will benefit from the gifts we make to an endowment, as will their children and grandchildren, and so on down through the years. In other words, an endowment never stops giving.

When people ask me about the arrangements we've made, I tell them Jackie and I had a number of reasons for establishing our fund with the Community Foundation the way we did. For example, the money is in their hands and taking care of it is now their job. They do all the worrying about proper investments, the IRS and any legal questions. They have been a great partner in helping us with the technical part of achieving our goals.

Another reason is that they were easy to work with. They were very understanding about my lack of knowledge and were patient with all the questions I asked. And then there's the credibility of the Community Foundation. You don't even have to worry about that. So you have the satisfaction of working with an organization that's very credible and very understanding. When you walk in the door, they're ready to answer all your questions and give you the correct guidance. They want to help you accomplish what you want to accomplish, even when it's a bit unusual, like in our case.

I also tell others that, as a donor, your are protected by the Community Foundation. It even has a donor "Bill of Rights," which assures your gift will be used for the purposes intended and stated when you made that gift. For example, our intent with the Vicksburg Community Schools is to support innovation in teaching and learning in the 100 square miles that make up our school district. But what happens if we someday merge with Schoolcraft or go to a county-wide school district? The wishes of the Vicksburg Community Schools, which are included in the documentation, will guide the decisions of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation's board. And even if something completely unexpected happens that isn't covered in the documentation, we know the Community Foundation's board will honor our intent.

One of the things we liked about this particular designated endowment arrangement is that other people can contribute to the fund and, by doing that, end up contributing to three nonprofits we care about. If friends or family members or others want to contributed to our fund, it's very easy. I saw this recently after Jackie passed away. The Community Foundation let me know that there were donations made in her honor and memory to our family fund, as well as other nonprofits in Vicksburg. I know that would mean so much to her.

Legacy is a great word even though it is often over-used. To me it means what we did and the things that were dear to us in our lifetime will be remembered and honored even when we're not here physically. Years from now the Community Foundation's board and staff will be different, and few of them will remember who Warren and Jackie were. But we have the satisfaction now of knowing our intentions will continue because established an endowed Designated Fund.

People need to know you don't have to be wealthy to contribute to the community you care about. There's an old Russian saying: Without a leaf, there'd be no forest. I think that together, we are the individual leaves that make up the forest of the community we call home.

In Their Words: Carol and Tom Beech

photo of tom and carol beechCarol and Tom Beech began giving to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation almost as soon as they moved to town in 2003 when Tom became president and CEO of the Fetzer Institute. In 2007 they talked with the Community Foundation's staff and concluded it was time to formally establish an endowed Unrestricted Fund. So the Thomas F. and Carol J. Beech Endowment fund was born. Here is their story, told from the perspective of two donors who also happen to have spent years of their lives in the world of foundations, philanthropy and nonprofit boards.

Tom: I ended up working in philanthropy through a series of fortunate coincidences. As a young guy, I was a teacher at the elementary and secondary level. I worked in the corporate world in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Then I was recruited to join The Minneapolis Foundation in 1974. From there, in 1984, I was invited to Fort Worth, Texas, to lead a new foundation called the Burnett Foundation. We came to Kalamazoo in 2003 when the Fetzer Institute asked me to become its president and CEO.

Carol: I'm a visual artist. In Minnesota I was a full-time potter, selling in galleries all over the Midwest. When we moved to Texas I went back to oil painting rather than pottery, and I sold primarily in one gallery there. During the 20 years we lived in Texas I was involved with many nonprofit boards in both the social services and the arts. I was vice president of the AIDS Outreach Center and the Forth Worth Symphony. I served on the cabinet of the Van Cliburn Foundation, and I was president of the Women's Center and the Museum of Science and History. I learned a lot about the workings of the nonprofit sector through these experiences.

Tom: It was easy to make the decision to support the Kalamazoo Community Foundation when we moved here because we already knew its leadership made good decisions. We'd known Jack Hopkins for years from my work as a volunteer and consultant at the national level in the foundation world. Through him we got to know something about the Community Foundation itself, so there wasn't a doubt the money we donated would be well spent.

Carol: We've always believed in the idea of a community foundation because we've seen firsthand what an effective one can accomplish. We we wanted to do our small part in helping the Kalamazoo Community Foundation's efforts here. We chose to establish an endowed Unrestricted Fund because there's no way to know what will happen in the future. We could say we want our donations to fund XYZ. But that need or organization might no longer exist as the community changes.

Tom: As Carol says, who knows whether the organizations and topics that are of interest to us now will be significant to Kalamazoo in the future? So rather than tie the Community Foundation's hands, what we did in establishing this Unrestricted Fund was express trust in the wisdom of the board and staff of the Community Foundation as time goes on.

From my years working in that arena, I believe that flexibility is one of the key strengths of community foundations, and it's essential that a community foundation be able to address ever-changing needs. As I understand it, the percentage of restricted versus unrestricted resources at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has basically flipped in recent years, from 60 percent unrestricted and 40 percent restricted to 40 percent unrestricted and 60 percent restricted. I remember how important it was in Minneapolis to grow the unrestricted portion of our endowment and how difficult that was. Over the years there has been a trend, especially among living donors, to establish funds where the beneficiaries and/or areas of interest are specifically identified. Increasingly, donors want to be actively involved in decision making while they are alive. This is wonderful, but a community foundation also needs unrestricted resources.

Carol: Personally, I appreciate and respect that the Kalamazoo Community Foundation doesn't tackle just what's 'safe.' For example, it's been a leader in LGBT concerns and similar issues. That's one reason I was okay with establishing a fund at the Community Foundation.

It's also one reason why supporting the Community Foundation with unrestricted resources is so important. They give the Community Foundation some running room and help it maintain flexibility and impartiality –– helping it to speak out on a particular issue when that's necessary. Someone or some organization has to play that role in every community. Time and time again, the board and staff have accepted this leadership role, serving as a convener to bring people together. Unrestricted resources have helped them do that.

Tom: There are various ways community foundations are measured or evaluated. One is how well the organization responds to and interacts with other community organizations and agencies. Over the years the Kalamazoo Community Foundation has received really high marks on that score. A second is how well it relates to existing and potential donors. Our experience tells us that this community foundation is extraordinarily good at that. A third way is how well it does at growing with the community. Once again, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation does an exceptional job at that. It's been very creative over the years, and I believe the staff and board are going to continue that kind of leadership.

Carol: Kalamazoo is a wonderful community to live in because people sincerely try to work together and they care about the community. That's one of the reasons we're planning to live here even though Tom has retired. With our fund, we're just a small part of what the Community Foundation is trying to accomplish. But it has enormous reach, and that's what makes us feel good about being part of its efforts.

In Her Words: Marian Starbuck

Marian Starbuck has been giving to the Community Foundation’s Spirit of Community Fund since 2001. In 2010 she created the Starbuck Endowment Fund, an Unrestricted Fund we can use to address the community’s needs. Recently, Marian shared with us about her life and philanthropy.

I’m a South Bend native with roots in Kalamazoo. I came to Kalamazoo College in the fall of 1941. Pearl Harbor happened three months later, and it completely changed college life for all of us. With the men at war, by the time I was a junior we were almost an all-female college. I graduated in 1945 with a degree in social work.

After the war I got married, and we came back here for Bud, my husband, to finish his bachelor’s degree on the GI Bill at Kalamazoo College. Then we moved to Ann Arbor for him to get a law degree at the University of Michigan. I worked in social work while Bud was in school and then stopped working when he finished and became a full-time mother to our two sons.

Fortunately, I had a mother who knew life could be better for women than what she had growing up. She had gone to business school and worked as a secretary, so she understood the value of education. She was determined that I would go to college.

Education has been a thread in my life. As a social worker, I saw what happens to children when they don’t have the right opportunities for education and growth. It was heartbreaking to see these little kids, and you just knew nothing good was going to happen for them. We did a lot to feed and house them and work with the parents, but without education that wasn’t going to be enough to give them a chance in life. Like my mother, I believe in the value of a good education.

I think giving to others originally came from my childhood. My mom and dad were very active in South Bend, where they belonged to a lot of philanthropic organizations. I grew up knowing that volunteering and donating were just something you do, a way of life.

I don’t remember precisely when or why my husband and I began making donations. I know we always felt like we were so blessed with good fortune that we wanted to help others. Bud was committed to contributing while he was alive, and I just carried it on after he was gone. I knew that’s what he would have wanted, and it’s also what I want to do.

Most of us have so much more than we need. In a way, it’s a bit selfish I suppose. But it feels so good to help somebody else who hasn’t had the same advantages. And I’ve been so lucky my whole life — good health, a good husband, good parents and great experiences — I feel so blessed that I just want to help other people have a chance for those same opportunities.

In Their Words: Rick and Mary Halpert

Seventeen years ago, Rick and Mary Halpert created an Advised Fund at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Recently, Rick talked about why that fund was created and shared five reasons they have continued to work with the Community Foundation.

Rick and Mary HalpertAs a lawyer, I do pro bono work. A friend of mine, Bill Becker, asked me to find a lawyer for a young quadriplegic man who’d been hit by an inattentive driver. I ended up giving him several hundred hours of time. Bill then arranged for a gift to the Community Foundation in my name. I was shocked when it turned out to be a $10,000 gift!

Frankly, I’d always thought of the Community Foundation as a place for families like the Gilmores and Upjohns, not ordinary folks like us. When I looked into the their work, what I found was contrary to this. It helps anyone with charitable giving motives find the most effective way to accomplish their goals. As time went on, I realized that this organization is a jewel in the community.

If someone asked me, I’d make five points about our experience with the Community Foundation. First, Mary and I take giving as seriously as we take spending. We want our funds to be used appropriately for purposes we care about. They help us identify organizations whose requests meet its guidelines, but I’ve found it also is happy to suggest support for nonprofits that don’t fall within those guidelines. The Community Foundation brings to our attention ways to serve the community that we would never know about otherwise.

Second, one of the Community Foundation’s major goals is to help givers learn how to accomplish their missions. It has educated us over the years and helped us to understand the whole concept of philanthropy — almost like going to college on giving. Mary and I are more astute in how we look at charities and where our funds might do the most good.

Third, their staff are trusted leaders. They have reputations in the community as people who are reliable and knowledgeable. This means that Mary and I don’t have to do a lot of the research and legwork for our giving that we might otherwise have to do.

Also, because the Community Foundation has a sterling reputation in the community, this gives credibility to the organizations it supports. If the Community Foundation has its imprimatur on a project, it means it’s legitimate. And because it has a track record of success, this means we can feel comfortable with the advice we receive from them.

Finally, the Community Foundation does an excellent job with the mechanics of giving, which reduces our burden. It keeps precise track of the distributions we’ve made and which charities we like. It gives us legally proper receipts. And it is thorough in its due diligence, assuring that our charitable giving always meets IRS standards. 

To summarize, the Community Foundation will help you identify your charitable wishes, hopes and goals and then bring them into reality so that you feel good about what you’re accomplishing. After many years of experiencing this, we consider ourselves fortunate friends of the foundation.

In Their Words: Rick and Martha Omilian

Rick and Martha Omilian have donated seed money to establish the Remembering Maggie Fund — an Advised Fund under development at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation — in memory of their daughter, Maggie Wardle. In a recent conversation, they shared Maggie's story and spoke about their relationship with the Community Foundation.

Rick and Martha OmilianRick: In 2009 we donated money to start an Advised Fund at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. When it’s fully funded, the cause we want to use it for is prevention of relationship and dating violence. We decided to do this based on what happened to our daughter, Maggie. In 1999 she was a 19-year-old coed at Kalamazoo College and was killed by her ex-boyfriend, who then killed himself.

We want to make sure that her life is remembered and that some good to others comes from her death. We don’t want to just quietly grieve in a corner.

Martha: A month or so before she died, Maggie wrote in her school portfolio "I am no longer content to live a private life. The things I do can make a difference." The Remembering Maggie Fund is one way we’re honoring this commitment she made and her unfulfilled potential.

Rick: We both have a background in helping others. Martha was a psychiatric nurse, and I was a school administrator and special education school teacher for a long time. So we want to focus our giving on youth.

Over the years we’ve talked a lot about what happened to Maggie and her ex-boyfriend and how this could happen. She was a very bright young woman and she had learned a lot about relationships from us. She knew all of the things she shouldn’t do, how to be careful, and how important it was not to let some man control her life. But it still happened. That’s why we want to do this — to help kids understand the characteristics of healthy relationships and what it takes to have them.

Martha: We knew about the Community Foundation because Maggie had previously applied for a scholarship. So we felt comfortable talking with them. After talking with them and many other organizations in the area, we discovered that no one was specifically dealing with dating relationship violence, even those that deal with domestic violence.

As to the schools, the state Department of Human Services has posted a curriculum online and it’s available to them. But there’s no time in the day to teach it, and there’s no money to support specific extracurricular programs.”

Rick: We need to raise $10,000 more in the next two years to fully establish the Remembering Maggie Fund and begin supporting the relationship violence prevention activities we’re committed to.

We’re very comfortable that the Community Foundation clearly understands and supports our mission. If we can’t find enough financial partners to grow the fund and reach our goal of $25,000 by July 1, 2012, they will help us use, through other channels, the money already collected. So even if we can’t establish the Advised Fund as we hope, the funds will still benefit the children in the community and reflect our desires.

In Their Words: Al Garcia and Sandra Edwards

Shortly after they retired, Al Garcia and Sandra Edwards established an Advised Fund at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Recently, they shared how it is addressing the needs of the Kalamazoo community as well as nurturing their family.

Al Garcia and Sandy EdwardsAl: Sandy and I talked about how good Kalamazoo has been to us, and we wanted to give something back that involved input from our children and eventually the grandchildren. We thought first about starting a family foundation, but the requirements were very complicated.

Sandy: A financial planner mentioned that we could accomplish what we wanted through the Community Foundation. So we made an appointment to talk about it with the staff. It was important for me that we really connect with them personally, and we did. I liked their whole atmosphere.

With our Advised Fund, we make suggestions regarding what nonprofits we want to support. It changes from year to year depending on what’s most needed in the community that year. Community has been a theme in our lives, and we tend to go with a balance of contributions to the arts, education and social services. For a community to be whole, I think, it has to keep that balance.

Al: Choosing what to support isn’t a burden and doesn’t take much of our time. The Community Foundation knows what we’re interested in, keeps an eye out, and helps us to prioritize. They’re in a central position to see what’s going on in the community. We trust that they are keeping abreast of what’s needed and which of the many area nonprofits could make best use of our limited funds.

Sandy: A fund at the Community Foundation is a win/win because it’s not only a wonderful way to invest your money, but it creates a mutually nurturing circle. You give to your community to keep it strong, and a strong community keeps giving back to you and your family. I think philanthropy is a wonderful way to keep your "emotional muscles" strong — a way to be humanitarian and to serve yourself as well. In that way, it’s maybe almost selfish!

Al: I believe there are many stages we go through in life, and we need to navigate them all to fully develop as human beings. We’ve received a lot for many years from this community. It’s been a wonderful place to raise children, enjoy the arts and recreation — and all very reasonably priced because other people were contributing.

Now that we’re older it’s our turn to be on the giving end. If we don’t make that transition, I don’t think we’ll have truly lived or reached our full development.

Sandy: Being involved in giving like this is a good thing for mentoring and teaching your children — a great opportunity for family growth. I think it’s also part of the proper role for older people, giving substance to our lives after retirement. Philanthropy is part of our responsibility as wise sages and community elders.

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