Got an interest or a passion? There are foundations for that

What are your interests and passions?

Theater and the arts? Hiking, walking, running, biking? Musicals? Concerts? Reading? Pets? History? A day or night at the ballpark?

Or, like dozens of local volunteers did recently, bringing holiday cheer to children?

Well, there’s a foundation and a trust for that – and for a whole lot more. No one knows this more than those who work tirelessly to make Fort Dodge and Webster County a better place to live. And behind their efforts, the three major philanthropic organizations that help make it all happen: the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, the Catherine Vincent Deardorf Charitable Foundation and the Ann Smeltzer Charitable Trust.

Most recently, Community Christmas 2021 – sponsored by Athletics for Education and Success (AFES) – brought holiday cheer to about 340 children in Fort Dodge in the form of Christmas gifts, clothing, hygiene kits and meals.

But the Dec. 19 event probably would never have happened or reached nearly as many without foundation support for AFES, which works with hundreds a youth a day offering after-school programs, day care, sports programs and art and music programs.

“Since AFES started over 15 years ago, these three foundations have been key to our survival,” said AFES founder and CEO Charles Clayton. “As we started out not knowing a lot about running a nonprofit and where to look for funding, these three organizations were key in keeping the door open in the very beginning and helping families and youth. With our sliding scale fee and scholarships being a large percentage of our program participants, it has been vital to have local funding dollars from groups who understand our mission and always step up to help.”

It’s probably safe to say that few know much about the operations of the three major organizations and how they impact lives – primarily behind the scenes. Think the rolling credits at the end of a movie, after the performers are listed. But the nonprofit causes and projects that these organizations help with financial support are part of the fabric of the everyday lives of virtually every resident.

And with the start of the new year, the boards of all three – made up of volunteers from throughout the Fort Dodge community – will be meeting to review groups they can assist in the coming year.

Among those who have or had received support: Karl L. King Municipal Band, Fort Dodge Public Library, Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex, Comedia Musica Players, Fort Dodge Community School District, St. Edmond Catholic Schools, Iowa Central Community College, Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Shellabration, Stage Door Productions, Hawkeye Community Theater, Fort Dodge trail system, Fort Dodge Police Department, Phillips Auditorium renovation project, Clayton’s AFES organization and the Fort Museum, Frontier Village and Frontier Opera House.

But wait, there’s more, including: Friends of the Oleson Park Zoo, nonprofit grocery stores in Manson and Gowrie, Friends of Oakland Cemetery, Lizard Creek Blues Society, Serving Our Servants volunteer program (honoring the late Pastor Al Henderson), Blanden Charitable Foundation, Fort Dodge Historical Foundation, Fort Dodge Choral Society, Fort Dodge Area Symphony, Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association, Almost Home Humane Society, Early Community Childhood Center, Meals on Wheels Program, Dayton Rodeo, downtown Fort Dodge gateway features (new clock tower in the downtown roundabout), Dodger Baseball Diamond renovation.

Among the most recent and publicly visible that were targets of foundation support: the Floyd of Rosedale sculpture, the Fort Dodge grain silo mural and the Webster County Freedom Rock.

And more recently (in November), “Lift,” a one-ton, 24-foot-long, stainless-steel sculpture installed at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport entrance on Nelson Avenue.

Two of the foundations came about through the love of community by Catherine Vincent Deardorf and Ann Smeltzer. Both are deceased, but the financial legacy they left behind lives on.

Catherine Vincent Deardorf established the Charitable Foundation – https://deardorf.org/- bearing her name in 1993, the year before her death. She gifted $8 million to start the foundation. Her family had acquired wealth in early Fort Dodge. She was the social editor of The Messenger for a number of years and owner of the newspaper from 1959 to 1963. In choosing to acknowledge and thank the community via the foundation, she selected professional advisers and trusted friends to serve as its first directors. Initial foundation holdings were exclusively American Home Products stock.

The Deardorf Foundation is operated by a seven-person board of directors comprising Jane Gibb (an original member of the board), Rhonda Chambers, Peg Trevino, Maureen Merrill, Kyle Sande, Jennifer Condon and Megan Secor. The board meets six times a year to review grant applications. The foundation annually distributes 5 percent from the year end’s Market Value, typically $300,000 – $350,000 per year, and has awarded more than $10 million in grants since its establishment, all within Webster County, said Chambers, who is director of aviation at Fort Dodge Regional Airport.

“I think that Catherine’s gift to this community is something very unique and special,” Chambers said. “It makes me proud to follow her and keep her foundation intact. It’s a very rewarding board, for what we can do for the community. I think the board has done a better job of promoting itself, helping people understand there is grant money for projects.”

The Ann Smeltzer Charitable Trust -https://www.smeltzertrust.org/- was established in 2000 as one of the final wishes of a woman who was a lifelong resident of Fort Dodge and Webster County; she died in 1999. She was a strong supporter of cultural events in Fort Dodge and helped many young artists throughout her lifetime. She was also a supporter of the environment through her many donations to organizations in Iowa and around the world.

Trustees meet monthly to consider requests. William Griffel is president of the board, Jo Seltz is vice president, Dr. Mike Bottorff is secretary and Branden Hansel is treasurer. Others are Jim Kersten, Audra Fisher, Norm Lundquist, Rita Schmidt and T.H. Hoefing.

“Ann did a whole lot more in Fort Dodge than a lot of people ever gave her credit for,” Griffel said. “She put a lot of kids through college, always in music, as far as I know. She had a lot of friends. She gave a lot of money away, that’s where they put the trust together. The areas picked for representatives were all areas where Ann donated or worked with.”

In the last year, the trust has received 33 requests for funding. In addition, it annually grants 10 scholarships of $2,000 each to college juniors, seniors or graduate students who are from Webster, Buena Vista or Palo Alto counties. Funding for the trust comes from 2,600 acres of farmland on eight farms it owns in those counties. Income for the trust depends on crop prices, Griffel said.

“Last year and this year have been very good years,” he said.

Trust assets also include the Smeltzer House on Scond Avenue South in Fort Dodge and four lots in the Oak Hill Historic District.

“The groups we help, they’re always very thankful,” Griffel said. “We try to help as many people and organizations as we can. Some would be hard-pressed to do stage productions. For them, rights to use music can be incredible. Without help they couldn’t make a go of it.”

The Fort Dodge Community Foundation is an independent, 501(c)3 public charity that enables people with philanthropic interests to support causes they care about in Fort Dodge, Webster County and north central Iowa. It oversees and manages more than $22 million of assets.

The history of philanthropic groups in Fort Dodge traces back to 1928 when a group of residents established theFort Dodge Community Chest. Frank W. Griffith, a noted local architect, was the board president and C.B. Smeltzer, a member of one of Fort Dodge’s founding families (and father of Ann Smeltzer), was the campaign chair. Mrs. R.P. Atwell served as the Women’s Division Chair. The campaign slogan was “Let’s Put a Feather in Fort Dodge’s Hat!” Red feathers were used throughout the community to signify participation in this first community-wide effort to meet local critical human needs through philanthropy.

In 1956, the board of directors of the Fort Dodge’s Community Chest voted to become a United Way affiliated organization and incorporated as United Way of Greater Fort Dodge. Then in July 2007, United Way of Greater Fort Dodge and the Community Foundation of Fort Dodge and North Central Iowa merged into one philanthropic organization. This collaborative model is the first of its kind in the nation, its director, Randy Kuhlman said,and offers the community and region a “one-stop-shop,” for community-based charitable giving.

Kuhlman, its director since 2009, said the foundation creates long-term assets and makes grants to better the community and improve its quality of life.

“Over the last five years, we have provided support for 70-80 organizations, most in Fort Dodge and Webster County and some around the state,” he said.

Grants through the foundation total, on average, about $1.3 million to $1.6 million annually.

The goal of its 17-member board of directors, which meets monthly, is “to help Fort Dodge become a better, more prosperous community,” Kuhlman said. Board members are: Susan Ahlers Leman, Dave Beekman, John Bruner, Matt Cosgrove, Leah Glasgo, Kellie Guderian, Chris Hayek, Jim Humes, Deb Johnson, Mike Johnson, Scott Johnson, Sarah Livingston, Scott McQueen, Lin Simpson, Troy Shaner, Jesse Ulrich and Lisa Wilson.

In considering causes or groups to support, he said, “We try to be as apolitical as we possibly can be. We have donors on both sides of the equation, and we don’t want to lose either of them. We’re kind of seen as Switzerland, so to speak. My biggest challenge is to make people who have wealth aware of what we do and how they can give back to their community. You find those people, talk to them, do friend-raising to make them aware of what we do. What’s touching your heart in your community.”

The foundation has developed a historical web site – https://www.fd-foundation.org/

“Fort Dodge and Webster County have a very robust history, but all of it is in files at the Historical Society at the public library…or in Roger Natte’s head (referring to the well-known Fort Dodge educator and historian),” Kuhlman said. “It’s been fun, educational and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.”


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