The Lexington Community Foundation held their 13th annual Fall Luncheon on Wednesday November 8th at Kirk’s Nebraskaland Banquet Room. The Luncheon was moderated by past President Dr. Tom Fagot and highlighted the past 35 years since the Foundation’s formation in 1982. Dr. Fagot told around 130 attendees that the purpose of the luncheon is to “celebrate the philanthropy of this community”. Father Matt Koperski gave the invocation.
The program included two panelist discussions involving three of the founding members of the Foundation and three young members on the future of the Foundation in the community.
The first question posed to the founding members panel was the founder’s vision at that time for the Foundation.
Ed Darby said the original vision was that it would be a county-wide foundation but, they soon determined that would not become a reality so plans were changed to the Lexington Community Foundation “with the intentions to receive moneys, gifts and contributions from people living in the area and put them to use in the community to enhance the quality of life”.
Kay Denker said “the Foundation was very fortunate and blessed to have many capable and forward-looking individuals as it’s original members. They were instrumental in the community through the years with the strong work ethic and always strove to give back to the community. They wanted to help make this area a special and important one for the residents and they really got the ball rolling.”
Eric Brown remarked on the number of charitable causes supported today and the size of the endowment. He recalled some struggles with early key decisions for the Foundation but, described the founders as “a congenial group who just tried to make Lexington a better place to live by reinvesting.”
The next question was whether capital campaigns were ever discussed back then or did they just evolve?
Darby said they talked a lot about how they were going to “get the money” and where it was going to come from…which evolved into things to raise money for: including the first capital campaign called “Thanks a Million” which raised funds towards the construction of a new swimming pool and renovating the Lexington Middle School. Darby said he was really surprised and thought it was an unreasonable goal when the $1 Million was suggested. But, he said Gary Schultz came up with the right idea that “it’s a way (for people) to give thanks to the community that’s been good to you…and people did!”
Denker said capital campaigns by the Foundation were probably both discussed and evolved over the years. She notes “the original members were ready for a challenge and knew the needs of the area. They shared thoughts and dreams of the future. They were ever-ready to go to work and meet the needs of our residents.”
Brown said the “Thanks a Million” campaign was a favorite of his. He described it as a tangible project “that gave the board the confidence and the community the confidence…we can work together to do things. A Million was a lot of money back then too but, once you get that momentum going and get people in the habit of giving, which is a hard habit to cultivate.” He said its much easier to get the later gifts than the first one and “Thanks a Million” got the ball rolling on giving.
The panelists were asked about major events in steering the direction of the Foundation.
Darby says the conventional wisdom in the early days of the Foundation was to focus on “people projects” that help enhance the quality of life in the community and not brick and mortar projects. But, he admits that after campaigns that successfully renovated the Middle School, built the swimming pool, new library and YMCA were in the end “people projects” that “provide a lot of support for the enhancement of life in the Lexington community.”
Denker said the annual Foundation gala was “such fun” that brought more Foundation Awareness and raised money. She said the Give BIG Lexington campaign has also had a great impact on the Foundation by increasing more interest in it. She listed several improvements made possible through the assistance of the Foundation including: the YMCA, Johnson Lake Trails, the Optimist Outdoor Recreation Complex, Lexington Library and scholarships. She also described Jackie Berke as a “very capable Executive Director” and her in ingenuity “has been a great asset to the Foundation.”
Brown agreed with other comments that changing the formula of the annual gala to the The KEY events has also had great impact along with the hiring of Jackie Berke as a staff member. He also credited Berke with the Give BIG Lexington campaign that was first of it’s kind in the state.
What can the Foundation do to make an even bigger impact on the community?
Darby said he “wouldn’t change anything” with the Foundation formula, “what they’ve been doing has worked very well.” Yet he encouraged the Foundation to keep working on the “‘people projects’ that enhance the quality of life in this community.”
Denker said the community is a safe one with “super public schools” and “generous people. She said “the young people and their families are most welcome and we hope they stay”. She noted some will return and new ones will join the community but, they’ll “be greeted with pleasure and hospitality. We want them to become an important part of the area and the Foundation in the coming years.”
Brown said there are “a few brick and mortar projects left to finish but, then the Board has to ascertain the community needs and see where you go from there.” He suggested the use of focus groups, surveys and other research techniques to help determined the direction. One idea he suggested was to develop a “Makers Space” similar to one he recently observed on the Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln. It could include such things as 3-D printers, computers, screen printings, quilt machine and woodworking materials that would be available for public use. He said grant money for such a project is available from the Nebraska Library Commission and it could lead to economic development, jobs and “make Lexington an even better community”.
COMING UP: New Generation Panel gives their thoughts on the community and the future of the Foundation.