Fund Name: Thomas A. Ritsche Fund for Youth
Fund Established: January 23, 1996
Community Foundation(s): Central Minnesota
When Tom Ritsche, a life-long resident of St. Cloud, was growing up on the east side, there were few activities for children to participate in. Getting into trouble was tempting. So when Tom sold his business in the mid-1990s and had the opportunity to give back to youth, he made sure it would have a lasting impact. He established the Thomas A. Ritsche Fund for Youth, a $2-million fund at the Central Minnesota Community Foundation. Since 1996, his fund has provided $1.7 million to youth organizations through 159 grants.
Tom was involved with Woodcraft Industries, a cabinet component manufacturer, from 1959 to 1996. He purchased the company from his father in 1968 and from then on served as the President/CEO until he sold the company in 1996. Tom transformed the small local cabinet shop into a nationally known company with three manufacturing plants and over 700 employees. Beyond Woodcraft Industries, Tom was also very active in the St. Cloud community. He served on the founding board of the Central Minnesota Boys and Girls Club and also served as president of the organization. Together with his wife Jan, Tom led capital campaigns to build the first Boys and Girl Club—near his childhood home on the east side—as well as locations at Roosevelt and on the south side. That was just the beginning.
It was always Tom's passion to help area youth, particularly those who have a strike against them. Tom developed his fund in a way that insured that the gifts would reach several organizations that impact youth, based on their yearly projects. To effectively assess and meet the needs of the community, each year the fund's advisory board selects (based on an application process) a variety of youth organizations to receive grant funding monies. Tom felt a responsibility to invest something back into the community that had contributed so greatly to the company's success.
“If it weren’t for Tom and Jan’s support, there would be a good chance that we wouldn’t have a Boys and Girls Club in this community,” said Mark Sakry, executive director of the local Boys and Girls Club.
“He literally saved our operation," Sakry said. "There were times we could not make payroll, and Tom would say, ‘Let me cover that and pay me back when you can.’”
Tom, an accomplished business owner, knew the realities of operations. He not only made it his mission to support capital projects and youth programs, but also specifically to provide funds that support operations—a rarity in the grantmaking world.
Although he died in June 2011, Tom’s unwavering support of youth remains. The fund’s balance stands at more than $1.8 million, and a committee that has been recommending grants from the fund since its inception will ensure that those dollars continue to support causes that meant so much to Tom.