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Foundation aims to improve DL

Past and present board members pose for a photo. PIPPI MAYFIELD/TRIBUNE

A small group of people are making a big difference in Detroit Lakes and the surrounding area — and they’re hoping to do more.

In 1986, the Detroit Lakes Area Community Foundation Fund was formed, and a year later, a board was formed to oversee the foundation.

Since then, the foundation has supported many brick and mortar projects around the area.

“I’m very proud of what we have done here,” said Dennis Shurman who is one of the founding members.

Though the foundation already awards about a dozen grants each year, they are looking to share the love even more.

How they got started

Some folks had talked about getting a foundation started, but it was C. Leroy Larson, who was president of Bremer Bank at the time, that actually got the foundation up and going in December of 1986. Judy Gifford served as his secretary. They worked with Shurman to get the legalities of the foundation worked out.

It wasn’t until a year later that a board was formed. It included Virgil Watson, Ray Larson, Bruce Imholte, Gerri Rutledge and Dennis Shurman.

The board members raised money, Bremer Bank agreed to a $15,000 matching grant and the Detroit Lakes Jaycees donated $10,000 to the foundation and thus the foundation had $42,000 to start doing good in the community.

Glenn Gifford said he likens the foundation and that initial $42,000 to a tree.

“It was such a little tree that was planted and it could have easily withered,” he said.

“I don’t see it going away anytime soon,” Jim Sinclair added.

It was Glifford who was responsible for the Jaycees’ donation, the first organization to give to the foundation. There was controversy surrounding the Jaycees’ decision to give because the foundation was new and just forming.

“Why throw all your eggs in one basket that no one really knows what it was about,” Gifford said was the mindset of some.

But the Jaycees decided to give their profit of $10,000 from the Water Carnival to the foundation. Each year the Jaycees give away their profits to area charities.

“We raise it and give it away,” he said of the Jaycees.

He said that at the time, though it was new, Gifford felt strongly about giving to the foundation because of the people who were involved and their commitment to the community.

“If Roy was behind it, it was good,” he said.

Sally Oja added that Larson was known to get projects up and going and then be willing to relinquish control.

“He could start it but didn’t have to keep his fingers in it,” she said.

Once the foundation had a base amount of money, they decided to work with the Minnesota Community Foundation to      help the foundation with distribution and growing funds. They agreed to a three year relationship.

But, less than a year later, they were approached to join West Central Initiative, a newly formed group that provided many of the same service that Minnesota Community Foundation did.

“It was probably one of the biggest controversies at the time,” Shurman said because it was a new organization and the foundation was already in a three-year relationship with Minnesota Foundation.

But, they made the switch anyway.

“Without West Central, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Rutledge admits that she was actually against joining with West Central Initiative because it was so new and unknown, but she’s also first to admit what a successful partnership it turned out to be over the years.

Detroit Lakes Area Community Foundation was the first of its kind with West Central Initiative. Pioneering the way, there are now 16 community foundations in the nine counties WCI serves.

“We were breaking trail. We’re proud of that,” Shurman said.

Oja said the group had to do a lot of groundwork in the beginning, creating grant and scholarship application forms.

Board members

The four entities that have continued to support the foundation both financially and through board volunteerism are the city of Detroit Lakes, Detroit Lakes Jaycees, Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce and the United Way. One person from each entity sits on the board of the community foundation.

Those four then nominate one more board member at-large. From the very beginning, it was written that if none of the four members from the supporting entities was a woman, the fifth at-large member had to be a woman.

The current members of the board are Mara Bergen (city of DL), Angie Olson (Jaycees), Bonnie Mohs (United Way), Tom Thompson (chamber) and Jim Sinclair (at-large).

Financial side of things

“We never thought about how much we wanted to raise, we just wanted to build it,” Shurman said of the foundation’s financial status.

He added that the board also “didn’t have to worry about how much to give” because they didn’t have a large amount built up at that point.

So the board decided that maybe $250,000 would be a good foundation. Then that number grew to $1 million.

Members went to organizations to raise funds, which not only were good for fund purposes, it was also good leverage when it came time to write grants as well.

Mohs said one of the things she liked about the foundation was the fact that anyone, with any income, could easily give.

Her family was one of “those with a more moderate income where we could give $500 over five years, which was more manageable” than writing out a check for $500 at one time. She said she felt that she still got to be a part of the foundation and give back to the community, but in an affordable way.

The foundation was also formed for people to give their donations or trusts to after they passed away.

For example, the Frank and Hildred Long Trust is split into three areas through the foundation. Twenty-five percent goes to scholarships for area medical students, 25 percent for the general fund for grants, and the remaining 50 percent goes to a wide variety of projects including the Detroit Lakes library, the Methodist Church, the Ada library, the Salvation Army and more.

Thanks to the Long Trust, the foundation has given out $82,740 in medical scholarships to date.

As a whole, the foundation has given out 139 grants totaling $550,048 since 1989.

The foundation has a total fund balance of about $891,500 and gifts approximately $25,000 a year to various projects and $4,900 a year in scholarships.

Who receives the funds

“We only give to non-profits. We don’t give to individuals,” Thompson said.

Instead of giving to individuals, the group has chosen to give to brick and mortar, physical items that “affect a lot of people.”

For example, funds have been contributed to the handicap lift in the pool at the Detroit Lakes community center, hearing test equipment for Becker County, the storage shed for Humane Society of the Lakes and some of the lights at Snappy Field in Detroit Lakes.

“There is not a part of the community that hasn’t been touched by the foundation,” Cyndi Anderson said. “It’s a best kept secret, really.”

In the beginning, the board chose to not give funds for operating expenses because “it has a tendency to get lost,” Shurman said. “If it was brick and mortar, it’s going to be there.”

“It’s easier to get grants for programming, so we decided to give (grants) for buildings,” Oja said.

“There are a lot of good ideas, they just need money,” Shurman said.

They approve about a dozen grants a year and would like to do more.

“Anything that will be around and will be used by many,” Bergen said.

The grants the board approves “take on the personality of the board at the time — not that that’s bad. That’s the benefit of term limits,” Bernie Sauer said.