Step taken in foundation idea

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 20, 2002

The first step toward creating a community foundation was taken Tuesday night.

There will be more despite one community leader's wishes to expedite the idea.

"I've wanted this in place for five or six years," said David L. Forman, an attorney, who specializes in estate planning. "The need is there."

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To bolster his claim that people are looking for a new philanthropic source, Forman said a $5 million estate gift went to a source outside the area, when no local source suited the donor's needs.

A public forum was held Tuesday night in Ruby Runner Auditorium at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

Mike Ruzek and George Brophy are co-chairs of the Charitable Research and Development Committee.

Ruzek received a $20,000 grant from the Blandin Associates Program to examine, over a two-year period, how Austin and greater Mower County could benefit from a community foundation.

The guest speaker at the forum was Wendy Roy, executive director of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

Roy told the forum audience how three Grand Rapids natives wanted to create a device that would allow donors to see tangible benefits from their charitable giving in their lifetimes.

Ten years ago, the concept became a reality with the creation of a foundation, which, Roy said, has become a driving force in shaping the vision of the community.

Working with attorneys, bankers, stock brokers and others involved in estate planning, the foundation helps donors give back to their community with professional management of funds.

"I think we provide a valuable service and I think Grand Rapids is a better place for that service," Roy said.

Roy also said that managing philanthropic gifts successfully inspires more giving.

Ruzek said forming a community foundation in Austin

was first discussed in 1991, but nothing was done until Brophy

revived the idea more recently.

Similar foundations exist at Albert Lea, Owatonna, Rochester and Winona.

After examining 10 or more community foundation concepts, the Charitable research and Development Committee hopes to make a recommendation for creating one of their own for Austin and greater Mower County.

That could be accomplished sometime early next year, Ruzek said.

Tuesday night's diverse group included John O'Rourke, the former long-tine Austin mayor, who sits on the Hormel Foundation board.

The Hormel Foundation is the largest philanthropic group of its kind locally. Its $5 million gift to address new immigrant and other needs in Austin resulted in the formation of the Apex Austin group and the creation of new housing projects.

O'Rourke asked Ruzek what the role of the Hormel Foundation would be in creating a community foundation.

Ruzek, as well as Brophy, said the concept has been discussed with the Hormel Foundation and received a positive response.

At this early stage, no commitment has been received from the Hormel Foundation's leaders about participating in a community foundation.

Despite attorney Forman's personal endorsement to proceed with the idea, Ruzek said there will be more public forums and other community foundations to examine.

"By going through the process, it brings in the community and its support and involvement," Ruzek said.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at