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Community Foundation of the Ozarks celebrates 50 years since its founding

The Community Foundation of the Ozarks headquarters in downtown Springfield
Michele Skalicky
The Community Foundation of the Ozarks headquarters in downtown Springfield

CFO was formed in 1973 as the Community Foundation of Greene County.

It was a zoo that sparked the idea for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks in the early 1970s.

Nearly 96-year-old local retired attorney Fred Hall, who helped found CFO, remembers that Springfield Mayor Jim Payne and his wife Eve were vacationing in a small town in Texas in the early 1970s -– and that town had a zoo.

"And he wondered, 'how can a little town like this afford a zoo because keeping up Dickerson Park Zoo is pretty expensive?' And so, he went out and went through the zoo and then he asked the young lady, 'how can you afford a zoo?'" said Hall. "And she said, 'Oh, we have a community foundation.'"

At around the same time, a group of estate planning attorneys in Springfield learned of a sizeable estate gift that left the city because there was no place at that time to accept a general gift for community development, according to CFO.

When Payne returned to Springfield from his Texas vacation, Hall said, he talked to John Carnahan Jr., a trust officer at the time with Union National Bank, and told him the city needed a community foundation.

Carnahan took Hall, another attorney C. Wallace "Wally" Walter and CPA Hearld Ambler to lunch, Hall said, and told them he wanted them to create a community foundation for Springfield, "and those documents were all filed with the State of Missouri in 1973 on June the 18th," said Hall, "and it was called the Community Foundation of Greene County. Today, it's known as the Community Foundation of the Ozarks."

The name changed in 1997 as the Community Foundation of the Ozarks broadened its reach. Today, the organization has 53 regional affiliate foundations – most volunteer driven -- serving 58 counties south of the Missouri River. The first one was in Nixa in 1993.

The founders of the new Community Foundation of the Ozarks -- then known as the Community Foundation of Greene County.
The founders of the new Community Foundation of the Ozarks -- then known as the Community Foundation of Greene County.

Some of the CFO’s early supporters, Hall said, were members of the Greene County Estate Planning Council – folks like Vince Tyndall, Horace Haseltine, Gary Lipscomb and many more. Anne Drummond also played a key role, he said. Attorney Walter asked members of the council to be the CFO’s first board of directors.

“And the requirement to be on the board of directors was to contribute $100, and we all did," said Hall, "so we started out with a little money, and that helped the organization.”

Hall said two early promoters of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks were Pat Walker and Mary Kay Meek who researched where funds might be available for the new organization.

A new petting zoo at Dickerson Park Zoo, circa 1970s
Community Foundation of the Ozarks
A new petting zoo at Dickerson Park Zoo, circa 1970s

Interestingly enough – since it was a zoo that sparked the idea for a community foundation in Springfield -- the first grant the CFO awarded was $10,000 for a petting zoo at Dickerson Park Zoo.

Today, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks administers about 3500 different funds with assets totaling $419 million as of March 31, 2023.

Gary Funk, who began working at CFO in 1999 and who led the organization from 2003 to 2010, remembers when the foundation began to expand rapidly under the leadership of Jan Horton. She was the CFO’s first employee and past president.

"When I came there was a fledgling kind of beginning novice effort to work with affiliates, and there were three or four — a handful — and some others having discussions," said Funk. "And, what really happened was the Community Foundation Board of Directors, under the leadership of Bill Darr — a good friend of (Missouri State University) — and Kathleen Griesemer, embarked on what was called the philanthropy initiative and put over $3 million into that, and that was a project that both Jan (Horton) and I were able to facilitate, which was a great honor. And, what that philanthropy initiative did was really build out a framework or an infrastructure, if you will, to build the capacity to develop regional philanthropy but do so in a way that integrated it with the work in Springfield."

Brian Fogle leads the Community Foundation of the Ozarks today. He took over from Gary Funk in 2010, and he doesn't forget those who came before him.

“I applaud those whose shoulders we’re standing on right now that started this concept back in 1973," he said. "And, fortunately a couple of those original founders are still alive, and I've been able to get their stories in here and talk with them and seeing what's happened from that idea to where it is now. In 1987 — we were all volunteer for the first 15 years — and the board courageously said, 'we're not growing. We're $1.5 million, and for us to really do something we need to hire somebody.' So, we hired Jan Horton, and Jan really stepped up and really took us to a new level.”

Jan Horton passed away in 2021. When she joined the Community Foundation of the Ozarks in 1988, the foundation’s assets were $1.7 million. When she left the organization 15 years later, assets had risen to $52.5 million for the CFO and its 19 regional affiliates at the time, according to CFO.

As the Community Foundation of the Ozarks celebrates 50 years of service this year, Brian Fogle reflected on the organization’s mission – to enhance the quality of life in our region.

"That's a broad mission that allows us to do a lot of things, and we do that through grant making, through leadership, through collaboration and through endowment building," said Fogle. "A lot of folks think of us as grant makers, and...we're proud of that. We have granted back out in our 50 years — as you know, we're celebrating our 50th anniversary — over a half billion dollars back out to the Ozarks in those 50 years, but, again, working with others and collaboration and leadership...Joplin, Stockton — those are ideas, COVID and those responses. There was a group of us meeting every week during the pandemic from the city (Springfield), the (Springfield-Greene County Health Department), the county (Greene) working on these issues. So, in my mind all of those are equally as important."

One of the things CFO offers that makes a difference on an annual basis is its scholarship program. The organization manages more than 475 private scholarship funds created by individuals, families and companies. Fred Hall said it’s one of his favorite things the organization does.

"And, of course, that lives on in that individual's lifetime," said Hall. "And the greater the education of the individual, then the greater benefits in life his or her family will receive."

As Gary Funk ponders the success of CFO and how it’s been able to grow, he said that’s due to it being a proactive, initiative-based organization, "and not all community foundations are like that, so if you look at the work, you know, recently a lot of the leadership of the Community Foundation has provided, in economic development, which is obviously an area that Brian Fogle excels in, and then also storm recovery, right? The Joplin situation, which was so tragic, but, you know, CFO responded really well and really became a national leader in how community foundations can work on community recovery. So, I think that proactive, initiative-based work...which is a real legacy for within the organization is a real the Community Foundation and its efforts through the years."

Funk points to people who have been with the organization for years –- like Bridget Dierks, Winter Kinne, Julie Leeth and Louise Whall Knauer — for for helping CFO to be successful.

"So, you've got this really strong continuity staff who are really committed public servants," said Funk. "And then we've been very fortunate to have very good board leadership and participation — initially from Springfield, but then also from the outlying communities.”

Half a century after Fred Hall helped found the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, he can’t help but smile as he thinks about all of the positive things that have come out of it.

“To me, it’s kind of magical. It has really exploded and just multiplied, and the good fortune has come not just to Greene County, but to the whole of the Ozarks where all of these funds have originated," he said. "And there are hundreds of people who have wanted in some way to make a charitable gift and have it work in the community, but they had no way of doing it, and this organization is the organization that opened up that avenue.”

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.