Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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February 20, 2013

WHO WE ARE: Community Foundation endowment grows beyond $190 million

GOSHEN — When it comes to seeking a better quality of life for Elkhart County, few organizations embody that goal better than the Elkhart County Community Foundation.

Established in 1989 by a small group of like-minded individuals who made the bulk of their wealth in Elkhart County and were looking to give back, the community foundation is a public, tax-exempt, philanthropic organization that solicits and develops endowment funds and distributes income from those funds for the benefit of the community.

“Our mission statement is to improve the quality of life in Elkhart County by inspiring generosity,” said Pete McCown, president of the foundation. “We are a permanent endowment foundation that allows people to designate charitable interests both in Elkhart County and beyond if they choose, but their gift is made here to the foundation and invested, and then only the earnings from that gift are distributed to their charitable cause. So in essence, it becomes a permanent gift.”

According to McCown, the idea for the community foundation came from an Elkhart businessman named Oscar Schricker. While wintering in Florida in the 1980s, Schricker and his wife were putting their estate affairs in order and wanted to leave part of it to the community where they built their business, McCown said.

It was in Florida where the Schrickers learned of the relatively new concept of community foundations

“After learning of the concept, they came back and started including other people in the possibility of starting a foundation here in Elkhart County,” McCown said. “... A year or so later, Bill Myers was hired to establish it and he became the first president of what was to become the Elkhart County Community Foundation.”

Amazing growth

Since its inception in 1989, the foundation has grown from a fledgling start-up with good intentions, but little money, into a powerhouse of charitable giving to more than 500 causes from an endowment of more than $190 million.

Within the first decade, McCown said, the foundation had grown its endowment to about $10 million. By the end of its second decade the endowment had reached $50 million.

Still that growth was nothing compared to the shock the foundation would receive in late 2012 when it learned that David Gundlach, a wealthy entrepreneur and Hollywood movie producer with roots in Elkhart County, had bequeathed his entire personal fortune of nearly $150 million to the foundation, effectively tripling the size of the foundation’s overall worth. Gundlach had died unexpectedly of a heart attack in late 2011 at the age of 56.

“We have folks who are motivated to memorialize a family member, folks who started a company and built a business and built their wealth in the community who want to reinvest, and we have folks who simply care about a particular cause or passion,” McCown said. “So there’s not a lot of rhyme or reason beyond one person wanting to be generous to someone else.”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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