We have taken to heart the words of former President Nottleson by continuing to work toward broadening our presence and impact throughout all of Racine County. As noted by Nottleson, an on-going and increasing number of individuals, businesses and organizations with a deep sense of pride in our community are choosing to work with the Foundation to accomplish their own philanthropic objectives. As a result, the Foundation has continued to expand its support of non-profits that work to improve the lives of our citizens through initiatives in community development, health, education, human services, arts and culture and environmental programs and projects.
As an intern at a local law firm in the summer of 1975, Steve was alerted to excited noises coming from a conference room where several noteworthy Racine citizens had gathered. He later learned that the noise was celebratory and signified an auspicious occasion - the founding of the Racine Community Area Foundation! From that day forward, Steve, along with his wife, Jeri, were fated to have their lives interwoven with the work of the Foundation. Having served on the Foundation Board from 1991-1999, the last three of which he served as board president, Steve recalls that "It was one or two years into my presidency that it occurred to me that the Foundation is a 'public utility' - an incredible tool for estate planners who want to offer valuable options for charitable giving." Appreciated for their advocacy in support of the RCF, Steve and Jeri have also made a personal commitment to, as Jeri says, "put our money where our mouth is," by establishing the Stephen J. and Jerilyn S. Smith Fund. Steve continues to serve as legal counsel for the Foundation today.
Approaching its 25th Anniversary in the year 2000, then Foundation Board President, Neal Nottleson, wrote:
"It's commonplace to describe foundations in terms of their assets... However, all who either have been or are involved with the Racine Community Foundation fully realize our financial resources are only a means to an end. The 'end' is the effective use of these resources to contribute to a better quality of life for the Racine County community. The grants from the Foundation are making an increasing impact. We are also increasing our collaborations with other organizations to help make our dollars work even harder. This translates into greater leverage of the funds donors have entrusted to us."
It was also during its 25th year that the Foundation gained certification by The National Standards for U.S. Community Foundationsâ€”a certification we continue to hold.
The Racine Community Foundation was established in 1975 by a small group of community leaders who recognized the need for an organization that could receive and manage funds from charitable individuals, businesses and organizations in order to maximize efforts to serve the needs of the community. They also envisioned an administrative structure that could take the lead in understanding community needs and issues-and then effectively provide the financial resources and an information network to support those needs.
Once formally incorporated, the Racine Community Area Foundation (renamed the Racine Community Foundation in 1991) opened for business with assets totaling $6,565. According to B. H. Regenburg, one of the first members of the Board, the Foundation office was located in the Thompson & Coates law office in downtown Racine. Judy Rowland, also an original Board member, and second Board President, remembers that Regenburg was responsible for taking minutes during meetingsâ€”all of which he kept in a cardboard box in the corner of his office for years. Eventually a contract was negotiated with the Racine County Planning Council to take over a portion of the administrative and clerical work while the Foundation continued to grow under the power of an all-volunteer Board of Directors.
Under the leadership of the Foundation's first elected President, James Hamilton, $3,925 in grants were awarded to area non-profits in 1977. As the Board continued to draw major donors to the cause, the endowment grew. During Judy Rowland's first year as President, Foundation assets increased 10-fold. With assets now totaling $63,995, the Board was able to make community grant awards in the double digits for the first time ($24,949).
Significant asset growth occurred during President Paul Lyle's tenure (1982-1985). He left office having increased the endowment to $1,624,873. Steady growth continued as each new wave of dedicated Board members took their turn at the helm. However, in 1996, under the leadership of local attorney, Stephen J. Smith, the Foundation experienced an unprecedented leap as Smith lead the Foundation from approximately $9.5 million to over $23 million in assets by the end of 1999.