Short History Part I

As part of our “Ask the Foundation” series, we’d like to tell the story of how and why the Community Foundation got started.


In 1999, eight leaders of the Morris community gathered to think about the challenges to the future of our community.  It is ironic that many of the concerns today are the same as those that faced these men and women.  The initial goal was to look at issues that local government or charities could not or would not address for one reason or another.


After a decade what began as the Morris Community Foundation, the organization has matured into the Community Foundation of Grundy County.  From a volunteer organization with no staff, no assets, and very little idea what a community foundation could do, the Foundation has grown to employ a full time executive director, a part-time program director, and an accounting manager who oversee almost 5 million dollars in assets devoted to the maintenance and improvement of the quality of life of Grundy County.  In addition, the Foundation is the only not-for-profit in Grundy County which meets the “National Standards” of the Council of Foundations regarding governance and financial stewardship.


While the Foundation’s growth has been possible only because of community support, its impact has improved the lives of hundreds of children, helped countless disadvantaged who are in need of social services, and has brought focus to land use and planning across the county.


However, the biggest winners in Grundy County have been the other not-for-profit organizations.  The Foundation’s role as a convener has brought together childcare providers through the Grundy Partnership for Children, convened agencies and private industry concerned with workforce issues through the Business Education Council, and networked elected officials & government planners through the quarterly Planners Breakfasts and annual Grundy County Growth Conference.


In addition to networking and partnering with not-for-profits around programs and services, the Foundation stewards over $500,000  in endowments to benefit such organizations as the Morris Hospital, the Morris Area Public Library, the Morris Family YMCA, and various church, music, and youth organizations.



Community Leadership

This decade of impact came about because of the vision of the first board of directors.  Under the leadership of Jim Baum as President and directors Jim Peterson, Dick Schweickert, Joe Schmitz, Carol Narvick, Rev. Chuck Richardson, Dr. Ann Marie Struck, Bill Norton, Finance Advisor Ron Wohlwend, and Legal Advisor Jack Hynds, the first board of directors began the tradition of looking at the community with fresh eyes to see how to meet unseen and unresolved problems.


Since the beginning, the Foundation’s by-laws have specified that directors shall be chosen from the most capable members of the community who have demonstrated their desire to give back to our community.  The diversity of the board, a mix of men and women from different churches, industry, social backgrounds, and geographic home in the county has become a hallmark of board of directors over the years.  In fact, most of the members had never worked together on other boards and were not friends socially until uniting at the Foundation.


Community Redevelopment

In the early ‘90s, two important community projects were the redevelopment of the old Commonwealth Edison property along the I&M Canal and the abandoned Rock Island railroad station at the north end of Liberty Street.  These two properties anchor the ends of downtown Morris and were purchased by the Foundation.  The old ComEd building and construction were cleared to make way for a park which includes a replica of a canal packet boat called the “Heritage.”  After the redevelopment, the entire property was given to the City of Morris and is now Canal Port Park.


The second redevelopment project was the purchase of the site on Liberty Street which included a grain elevator, weigh station, and the old railroad depot.  The Foundation hired a railroad planning firm who recommended a historic remodeling of the station and the demolition of the other buildings.  The depot renovation was completed with a lease/purchase agreement as a new office for the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce.  The rest of the property was donated to the City of Morris who worked with the Rotary Club to develop it into Rotary Park.


The Foundation gave over $1,000,000 of property value back to the community through the rescue and redevelopment of these blighted properties which are now the bookend jewels of downtown Morris.


Next month we’ll start the history in 2003 when we partnered with the Grand Victoria Foundation in Communityworks and hired our first staff.