Indianapolis Foundation at 100
My organizaiton was founded during Indiana’s bicentennial year. Much happened in 1916, notably the creation of our state flag and our state park system. But was a community foundation part of the strategy? We don’t know the precise answer to that question but we do know that many of Indianapolis’ most distinguished citizens established the Indianapolis Foundation to make our city a better place to live, work, and play.
If we could travel back in time, to Indianapolis in 1916, what would we find? Indianapolis was quite a different place back then. For one thing, it was a lot smaller. But it was growing fast. From 1860 to 1910, the city’s population grew from eighteen thousand...to more than a quarter million people. More people meant more challenges. The city needed more and better housing, more widespread public education, and more responsive health services. There were new transportation challenges, too. People needed jobs, and safe, happy neighborhoods to raise their families.
Across America, growing cities were dealing with the same issues. Fortunately, plenty of people were eager to help. One of them—in Cleveland, Ohio—had a plan. Frederick Goff was president of the Cleveland Trust Company. He knew that community needs are not only real, but that they change over time. Goff had seen large estates left to causes that, through the twists and turns of history, had become obsolete, even harmful, to the owner’s original intentions. He called it “the evil of the dead hand.”
These “dead hand trusts” had distribution restrictions. One could be used only for watering troughs and hitching posts for horses in downtown Cleveland. Another provided care exclusively for children orphaned by the deaths of railroad workers. These were real problems in their day—but when times changed, these trusts became useless.
In response, Frederick Goff created a financial instrument called a community trust, and established the Cleveland Foundation in 1914. It was the first of its kind in America. In Goff’s own words, “It is a fund created by the union of many gifts…not narrowly restricted; contributed by the people of Cleveland and managed by them for the benefit of the City of Cleveland…so that the charitable problems of each generation can better be solved by the best minds of the future.”
Goff’s vision was especially interesting to his friend Evans Woollen, Sr., president of the Fletcher Savings and Trust Company in Indianapolis. Woollen rallied a group of passionate Indianapolis leaders to join forces, to create a better community—not only for their neighbors, but for generations of Indianapolis citizens yet to come. And so, on January 5, 1916, the Fletcher Savings and Trust Company of Indianapolis, the Indiana Trust Company of Indianapolis, and the Union Trust Company of Indianapolis created The Indianapolis Foundation to accept and administer gifts and disburse the income:
“for the relief of the needy poor and the improvement of living conditions in Indianapolis, for the care of the sick and aged, and for educational and philanthropic research.”
It was a bold and a noble plan. But as lots of us in this room know, even the boldest plans fail without funding and support. The foundation’s founders spent years working with potential donors to fund their vision. Then, Christmas arrived. Literally. On Christmas Day, 1920, the newly formed community foundation got its first major gift.
The donor? Alphonso Pettis, the 91-year-old former owner of an Indianapolis dry goods store called the New York Store. He’d never really lived here, but Indianapolis had made his fortune. So Pettis gave three hundred thousand dollars to The Indianapolis Foundation. That’s the same as three and a half million dollars today.The second gift arrived on May 15th, 1922. James E. Roberts, co-owner of a Connersville furniture company, made a bequest of eight hundred thousand dollars.
In August of the same year, the foundation received a nine hundred thousand dollar bequest from Delavan Smith, publisher of The Indianapolis News. That’s three gifts totaling more than two million dollars in less than two years. And those funds were entrusted to people whose names still ring through the halls of Indianapolis philanthropy today: Josiah K. Lilly...Gustave Efroymson...former U.S. Vice President Charles Fairbanks.
But it was Eugene Foster, The Indianapolis Foundation’s first director, who articulated its enduring vision. Said Foster, “The Indianapolis Foundation endeavors to help in making Indianapolis not the biggest city, but rather, the best city in the land. The best city for men and women to live in; the best city for men of brains and enterprise; the best city for wage earners; the best city for homes of peace and secure content; the best city for children in which to be educated; the best city for physical and moral health; the best city for intellect and culture. The foundation believes that Indianapolis has the human power, if applied, to make this city the ideal city of America.”
“If you want to consume culture or community, it’s best to live in places like Los Angeles. There is much to entertain you there. But if you want to produce culture or community, Indianapolis is the best place in the world. All your efforts to improve society will be met with cooperation and enthusiasm.”
--Brian Payne, CEO, Central Indiana Community Foundation
That’s a noble goal. “The ideal city in America”: We’d love to be that. So, it’s been ninety-nine years. How’re we doing? Let’s take a look.
Health and Wellness
I mentioned that James E. Roberts was the foundation’s second major donor. He made his eight hundred thousand dollar bequest with the needs of the city’s “crippled children” especially in mind. Foundation Director Eugene Foster had a singular idea for how Roberts’ bequest could be used: “Would it be advisable for us to make possible an additional nurse with the Public Health Nursing Association, naming her the James E. Roberts nurse, to devote her time entirely to crippled children? Inasmuch as the Riley Memorial Hospital will be available in some months, I think it would be helpful to us to have such a representative in the field.”
In 1924, the foundation approved its very first grant, to the Public Health Nursing Association. The grant provided a nurse and the equipment needed to serve children with disabilities in their homes. In addition to funding the James E. Roberts Nurse, Mr. Roberts’s bequest established the James E. Roberts School for Crippled Children in 1936.
Throughout its early history, the foundation funded all kinds of health initiatives. It helped improve healthcare facilities, supported nurse training programs, and funded tuberculosis and polio treatment at our public hospital. That public hospital would go through just a few changes of name and identity through the years: City Hospital, Marion County General Hospital, and the name most of us know, Wishard Memorial Hospital.
Today, thanks to broad community philanthropy—including many Indianapolis Foundation donors—Wishard has become the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital, supported by one of the largest gifts ever made to a public hospital in the U.S. The Eskenazis’ forty million dollar gift created a state-of-the-art hospital that is an amazing facility. It also illustrates how our community’s approach to health has changed over time. Take Eskenazi’s Sky Farm: an outdoor healing environment for patients, staff, and the entire community. The Sky Farm produces more than two thousand pounds of produce a year for use in some of the healthiest food ever served in a hospital.
And as I can tell you firsthand, the Damien Center has been a fortunate beneficiary of The Indianapolis Foundation. The foundation has not only helped us provide services and programs for people with HIV/AIDS, but also to expand and move into our current building.
And The Indianapolis Foundation has supported so many great ideas. Take, for example, Damien Center’s expansion to care for more people with HIV/AIDS, Genessaret’s Mobile Van Unit which delivers medical care and dental services to homeless adult residents and the Reverend Charles Williams Prostate Cancer Screening Unit. These programs serve people who aren’t likely to visit a clinic—who can’t be reached unless we reach out.
Providing every citizen with access to excellent health care has always been at the heart of The Indianapolis Foundation’s mission. Thanks to the foresight of some remarkable philanthropists, our community has not only the vision, but also the resources to address our health challenges—now and in the future.
The difference between a mere group of people and a community is right there in the word: “Comm-unity.” Unity starts with empathy—with putting yourself in the shoes of others. It’s not easy. But it’s necessary if we really believe in the idea of community.
One of our grantees, Joy’s House, has just been named the top adult day services center in the country. Making sure that the young and old have access to daily basic needs including food, clothing, shelter, and services has been a primary focus of The Indianapolis Foundation since the beginning. That’s why the foundation was one of the earliest supporters, in 1924, of the “Community Fund.” Better known today as United Way of Central Indiana, it’s one of The Indianapolis Foundation’s largest annual grant recipients and an important funding colleague.
For ninety-nine years, the Indianapolis Foundation has provided a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens. A place to sleep for homeless adults and children. Electricity and heat for homes that need it. Meals for the hungry. Access to critical services for older adults and people with disabilities.
The Indianapolis Foundation has also helped to build and strengthen our local community centers—the central hubs in our neighborhoods that serve those in need. The foundation’s first major grant to Flanner House in 1939 helped develop a housing community of 175 new homes on the northwest side, raising the standard of living for African-American families in Indianapolis. This, following a Flanner House study of four-hundred-and-fifty-four households showed the majority far below minimum standards of any kind—unsafe, insanitary, subhuman.”
Our community centers, including Edna Martin Christian Center, have helped thousands of Marion County citizens over the years, providing employment programs, transportation, utility assistance, financial counseling, senior day programs, capital building improvements, and after-school and summer programs.
In addition to its support of neighborhood community centers, The Indianapolis Foundation was an early supporter of many basic needs organizations—especially those that filled critical gaps in the community. For example, in 1984, The Indianapolis Foundation made a three hundred-forty thousand dollar grant to Gleaners, the state’s largest food bank. At the time, it was the foundation’s largest grant ever, helping Gleaners purchase a new, larger warehouse to serve even more at-risk adults and children. Then, in 1997, The Indianapolis Foundation helped Second Helpings, a new food rescue and hunger relief agency, start a culinary job-training program.
Another of the foundation’s standards was to be the first supporter of new organizations. For example, it started the city’s first employment bureau to help provide adult vocational training. And in 1941 it provided start-up funding to the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society to provide legal assistance to people with limited means.
It also funded the Noble School, founded in 1953 by parents of children with developmental disabilities. Around the same time, it helped start the Indianapolis Hearing Society—one of the first preschools in Indianapolis for hearing-impaired children. It worked with the Children’s Bureau to establish much-needed homes for orphans and group homes for foster care youth. And it helped start the Indianapolis Senior Center, so older adults would have access to social, recreational, and health programming.
Such essential organizations needed a safety net of their own. In the 1950s, another Indianapolis Foundation donor helped to create one. William E. English was the son of William H. English, a titan of local commerce and politics during the 1800s, and the man responsible for the English Opera House on Monument Circle. The younger William learned from his father that charities needed nurturing to survive. So he made a provision for the construction of a special building in downtown Indianapolis. Said the younger English, “Such charities as are deemed worthy shall be permitted without restriction as to race, creed, or color to have their office headquarters in said building and that said property shall become, and forever remain, the headquarters of Indianapolis organized charities.”
The English Foundation Building opened in 1953, becoming the home of The Indianapolis Foundation and many other organizations providing critical community services: Early Learning Indiana, Gennesaret Free Clinics, Legal Aid Society, the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, Families First—the list goes on. All under one roof, and all committed to meeting the basic needs of the people in our city. That’s unity, that’s community.
We believe that every child deserves the opportunity to discover her full potential and in 1936, the foundation helped Indianapolis Public Schools establish its own charitable foundation. Indeed, The Indianapolis Foundation has been helping high school students in Central Indiana realize their dreams since 1925, when director Eugene Foster helped establish the first of the Pettis Scholarships.
Also in 1925, the foundation began funding scholarships aimed at students who needed funding assistance to begin their college educations and we have provided scholarships every single year since. Today, more than three hundred students receive scholarships every year from more than a hundred scholarship funds. First-generation college students have always been a primary focus.
We have also been dedicated to getting our students started early. The foundation has been a long-time supporter of our community’s youngest learners, helping to fund the early childhood education efforts of Day Nursery (now Early Learning Indiana) and St. Mary’s Child Center. When Lilly Endowment and the Indianapolis Foundation joined forces to start the Summer Youth Program Fund, they had a great “crowdsourcing” idea two decades before crowdsourcing was a thing. By combining the charitable assets of now ten local foundations and funders, the Summer Youth Program Fund supports almost two hundred programs that reach fifty thousand kids with summer enrichment, leadership, and skill-building opportunities.
Another example of the foundation’s educational commitment is the Library Fund—made possible by a very generous anonymous gift. In its twenty-five years, the fund has awarded millions of dollars to help increase literacy and information access for Marion County residents. And it should make us all proud to know that there’s nothing else like this in the country. Our city has the largest endowment fund in the United States dedicated to libraries and public access to literacy resources.
The Indianapolis Foundation has always been about education, not only for kids, but also for the entire community. Helping adults gain the skills to lift themselves out of poverty—it’s a need that’s always existed, but the rules have changed over time. So the Indianapolis Foundation and CICF brought a national model—Centers for Working Families—to our city. Centers for Working Families work with our community centers and educational institutions to provide education, job training, financial literacy, and career planning. It’s just another example of how The Indianapolis Foundation adapts to the changing needs of our community—responding in ways that would have been unimaginable in the early 20th century.
Countless children, young people, and adults in Central Indiana are living proof of the power of philanthropy to change lives over the course of multiple generations. Thanks to the generosity of Indianapolis Foundation donors, millions of dollars have created early childhood education programs, productive summer activities, free educational resources, financial aid through scholarship funds, education reform efforts, workforce development and career training—all to empower Indianapolis’s citizens to live productive, fulfilling lives.
It’s no accident that “Foundation” is part of The Indianapolis Foundation’s name. It gives our most disadvantaged citizens a firm place to stand—a platform from which they can pursue their dreams with sure-footed confidence.
Arts and Culture
The Indianapolis Foundation’s legacy of supporting arts and culture began in 1933 with a grant to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. It was the first outreach grant the symphony ever received, and it enabled the orchestra to perform out in the community. By the 1960s, the foundation’s arts and cultural funding really began to pick up steam. The Indianapolis Foundation helped to start the Indianapolis Zoo, Young Audiences (now known as Arts for Learning), WFYI public television and radio, the Arts Council of Indianapolis, and a young dance company called Dance Kaleidoscope.
Actually, Dance Kaleidoscope, the performing company, grew out of the group of dancers that performed educational shows in the schools. Exposing youth to the arts and providing high-quality arts education experiences have always been the focus of the foundation’s arts funding. These activities ranged from bringing dancers, musicians, and artists into Indianapolis schools to funding teacher training and lesson planning on the stages of the Indiana Repertory Theatre.
Supporting the arts and culture in Indianapolis has been a passion for so many of our city’s residents but one particular fund that has supported nearly all of the organizations I’ve mentioned, and more: F.R. Hensel Fund for Fine Arts, Music, and Education. The fund was established by the estate of Franz Robert Hensel in 1992, and was The Indianapolis Foundation’s first Field of Interest Fund. Since its founding, the Hensel Fund has made one-point-three million dollars in arts-related grants. And it’s another example of a thoughtful estate plan from a generous Indianapolis resident with a vision—to provide beautiful and exciting experiences for the residents of the city he loved.
The Indianapolis Foundation’s quality-of-life commitment goes beyond the arts. The environment, green spaces, recreation, quality places, and parks have been priorities, as well. In the 1980s, the foundation was an early funder and champion of the Central Canal and White River State Park. But the foundation’s commitment to making this city a beautiful place is perhaps best reflected in the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, which became an official arm of The Indianapolis Foundation in the year 2000.
The Parks Foundation is a separate non-profit organization for our city’s parks department and it has benefited our parks to the tune of thirty million dollars. The foundation’s vision has made it possible for the City of Indianapolis to maintain and expand our park system and provide green space and outdoor programming for everyone. Which supports that vision Eugene Foster articulated so many years ago: We want to be the best place to work and live—and a city that values intellect and culture.
Our founders probably didn’t see all this activity coming 99 years ago. But as we look to the future, we want to continue to reinvent the way philanthropy is done to better serve our community’s ever-changing needs. First, let me set the stage for our current reality. Central Indiana has been changing rapidly since the 1980s. The Pan Am Games brought a new focus to Downtown. Mayor Hudnut got Circle Centre Mall going. We are always discussing regional solutions to transportation and economic development as more people who worked and played in Indianapolis were living in the suburbs.
Community giving was changing, too. Community foundations were being created across the country that, instead of waiting for bequests, gave charitably minded people a chance to make a huge difference while they were still alive. The Indianapolis Foundation and Legacy Fund (based in Hamilton County) saw an opportunity: to serve a broader constituency—to do more than passively make grants—and do more great work across Central Indiana.
No one saw the situation more clearly than Dan Efroymson. Dan was an Indianapolis Foundation board member—as were his father Robert and his grandfather Gustave before him—and he led two key changes to philanthropy in our community. The first was to modernize the options for giving by encouraging living donors to participate in local philanthropy with The Indianapolis Foundation. He knew that sharing knowledge and opportunities for giving could truly unite like-minded, generous people.
The second was to combine forces—to create regional solutions to regional problems—to allow gifts to be received and grants made wherever they were most needed. It took three years of negotiations, leadership, and hard work from everyone involved. George Sweet, Milt Thompson, and Ken Gladish were all instrumental in this move. But the big catalysts were Dan and Lori Efroymson who promised to do allL of their philanthropy through us if we modernized the foundation in those two ways.
It was truly visionary. And you can’t imagine how big. At the time, the Efroymsons had the largest donor-advised fund in the country. And so, in 1997, The Indianapolis Foundation and Legacy Fund of Hamilton County joined forces to create the Central Indiana Community Foundation and that has made all the difference in the world. Today, CICF works with over a thousand donor families and hundreds of nonprofits. Before CICF was created, The Indianapolis Foundation granted about five million dollars a year. Now our donor-advised families, scholarships, and other funds combine to give away more than forty million dollars a year.
This vision led us to a more future-oriented way of keeping the foundation’s early promise. Today, we are laser focused on three community leadership initiatives. The first is Inspiring Places, to connect our neighborhoods and create beauty through art, nature, and compelling public spaces for residents and visitors. For example, The Indianapolis Cultural Trail—a legacy of Gene and Marilyn Glick—is truly one-of-a-kind. It’s brought acclaim to our city and increased property values by over a billion dollars. Even more important, it’s connecting us in ways we never imagined possible.
Our second initiative is College Readiness and Success, to help our youth, and their families, reach higher. You’ve heard a lot tonight about CICF’s commitment to education. It truly is the key to a better life for thousands of Hoosier families, especially for first generation college students.
Our third initiative is Family Success, to build a cycle of financial self-sufficiency and support. Our flagship program, Centers for Working Families, a true community partnership with LISC and now the United Way, helps hardworking, low-income families get the tools they need to “Earn it, Keep it, and Grow it.” It’s been one of the most successful programs in the country, a model for breaking the generational cycle of poverty.
And it’s all been made possible by the transformative, forward-thinking vision and generosity of people like Fred Goff, Evans Woollen, Eugene Foster, J.K. Lilly, Alphonso Pettis, Dan and Lori Efroymson, Gene and Marilyn Glick, and thousands and thousands of donors over ninety-nine years. Are we the ideal city in America? I don’t know. But in the words of one of our favorite sons, the author Kurt Vonnegut...“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
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