Community Foundation(s): Willmar Area
Award: 2018 WACF Award in Philanthropy
In 1998, a seed was planted by 16 Willmar area community leaders to create an organization that would help to meet community needs and foster local philanthropy. Inspired by love of place and optimism, they believed the Willmar area needed a community foundation. Their dream and philanthropic passion for the growing opportunities in their community fueled their belief that a foundation could actively inspire investments locally. The founders then inspired Viola Ausherman’s dream to improve ‘her little nook in the world’ marked the beginning of the Willmar Area Community Foundation (WACF). Vi Auscherman’s initial $400,000 gift, together with the matching dollars from the Otto Bremer Foundation, began the momentum that would provide the solid foundation WACF stands on 20 years later.
The Willmar Area Community Foundation would not be growing and leading today without the guiding first steps of our founders which include: Chair Dean Anderson, Vice Chair Ken Warner, John B. Anderson, Diane Buzzeo, Lorraine Browne, Wilton Croonquist, Steve Freese, Les Heitke, Greg Hilding, Phyllis Jacobson, Maynard Lawrence, Smitty Luschen, Mike McCain, John Nelson, Earl B. Olson, and Kim Snyder. When asked about the experience of seeding WACF, the original board members offer humble and fond recollections that express gratitude and reflect the mission of the Foundation: engage people, connect resources and build community.
The insight, commitment and perseverance of those first board members paved the way for many funded programs, both large and small. Steve Joul, President and CEO of CommunityGiving, stated in his 1998 introduction, “People not even born yet will be the beneficiaries of your vision. 100 years from today, the region will be grateful for your foresight and dedication.” The current WACF Board reflected on one of the first grants, a $500 grant to the New London Senior Center in 1998 and chose to honor our Founders through a $5,000 grant to the City of Spicer - Dethlefs Community Center for their Cyber Seniors Mentoring Project, illustrating how WACF has become a core piece of the community that responds as our communities’ needs change.
In our first 20 years, WACF has granted over $7 million dollars to more than 100 non-profit organizations in Kandiyohi County. This includes large capital investments to the YMCA; Rice Health Foundation’s Rice Care Center; the Legacy Pavilion at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center; multiple investments into the United Way of West Central MN, Safe Avenues and Bethesda, while also supporting and investing time, talent and dollars to the Cardinal iPad project; multiple projects spring boarded from Vision 2040 and the Willmar Destination Playground.
While 20 years is a milestone for WACF, none of this would have been possible without the early foresight to imagine what a community foundation could do for Kandiyohi County. Founding Chair Dean Anderson says, “It’s about the power of the gifts themselves and what we used them for. We never did anything for publicity, it was always about what came from our hearts.” Thanks to those 16 founding board members, WACF is positioned to give back today while thinking ahead to the next 20 years in the place we all love to call home.