25 years of foundational impact

A special display at the Dubois County Community Foundation outlines the organization’s impactful history in the county.

Generosity has always been and continues to be a part of Dubois County’s foundational success.

There are scores of projects in the county bearing the names of those who helped make them possible through their time, talents and treasures. Baseball and football fields, libraries, bits and buildings of Dubois County history, pieces of art, modern parks, riverfront walks, amphitheaters and so many pieces of the puzzle that constitutes a healthy, thriving community bear the names of so many people, families and businesses in this community.

The Dubois County Community Foundation has been a catalyst in directing some of that generosity. The organization is celebrating 25 years of endowing and growing charitable relationships to better the community this year.

The roots of the organization began in the early 90s. Building upon the perceived generosity in the community, Bill Schmitt, who was about 10 years into his time as mayor of Jasper, felt the city could benefit from a city foundation.

It wasn’t a unique idea. Huntingburg had a robust foundation and several area companies had created charitable endeavors as well. But, a good friend of Mayor Schmitt’s, Dale Orem the former mayor of Jeffersonville, was a big proponent for community-based foundations. “He said that one of the best things you can do for your community is starting a community foundation if you didn’t already have one,” he explained.

While Mayor Schmitt was exploring the idea, another good friend, the late Jerry Habig, sent him to talk to his brother Tony Habig. “Tony was involved in a foundation through Kimball,” Schmitt explained.

Unknown to Schmitt, while he and Habig were gathering information and meeting Orem, another group was exploring the creation of a county-wide community foundation in Dubois County.

John Chappell was an attorney in Jasper at the time and he had learned about community foundations while attending a legal seminar. He could see the long-lasting impact of a pool of money that would be available for perpetuity to be used for any number of projects.

He brought the idea back home from the seminar but couldn’t get much traction to move things forward. Then, a state-wide initiative began pushing for the creation of foundations in Indiana counties. “The Lilly Endowment began offering grants to community foundations to be established,” Chappell explained.

Lilly Endowment had launched the Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT) initiative to encourage communities to establish community foundations and address problems on a local level. This effort seeded a community foundation in nearly every county in Indiana by offering matching grants — $2 for every dollar raised up to a total of $300,000.

Chappell was a lunch partner with Tony Habig and through that connection, he learned about Schmitt’s efforts. Schmitt saw the greater impact potential of a county-wide foundation and the two groups decided to join efforts to pursue the Lilly grant

An organizational meeting of the Dubois County Community Foundation’s first board of directors was held on July 29, 1996. The founding board members were John S. Chappell, President; Anthony P. Habig, Vice President; Jan Stenftenagel, Secretary/Treasurer; George Astrike, Dave Buehler, David E. Eckerle, Jerry Hunefeld, Joyce Jackle, Bill Rubino, Gervase Schwenk, Bradley T. Seger, Keith Seger, Terry Seitz, Gilbert Verkamp and Fred Weyer.

A few days later on August 1, the new foundation was officially incorporated.

The Community Foundation initially operated out of Chappell’s law office. Then, in March of 1997, the office moved to 323 E. Sixth Street in Jasper, a property next to the fire department leased from the City of Jasper for $1 a year.

The first gift to the foundation came from a founding board member’s family. “I remember that gift very vividly,” Chappell said about the successful establishment of the community foundation.

The $100,000 donation seeded the creation of a general endowment, today known as The Fund for Dubois County. This endowment has grown to over $2.7 million and supports diverse charitable programs and projects across the county each year. 

In 2011, with a successful capital campaign, the foundation was able to move into a new office building at 600 McCrillus Street in Jasper where it operates today. That project was fully funded by philanthropic support.

In 2012, the Dubois County Community Foundation and the Huntingburg Foundation were inspired by the idea that a single, county-wide foundation would promote stronger collaboration and could amplify impact on the community as whole. The two organizations joined forces and solidified a merger in June of 2012.

This merger helped pave the way for the foundation to have a greater impact in the community. They point to Huntingburg’s Stellar Communities designation and the recent $4.4 million grant to the Community Foundation from the Lilly Endowment as two recent examples that came about with their direct involvement.

The founders’ vision acted as a catalyst for change that has surpassed the expectations of many. In 25 years, they’ve distributed more than $14 million in grants and now over $64 million in protected, charitable assets.

The walls in the entryway to the foundation’s office are covered with the names of many of the donors that have supported the success of the county.

Jeryl Luegers is an emeritus board member who has volunteered and served with the Dubois County Community Foundation for 18 years. “I think the formation of the foundation in ’96 was a real milestone for the community,” he said.

He has seen the impact as a volunteer and board member as well as a donor. He is has helped establish two endowments. One — The Class of ’66 Endowment — established by his graduating class directly supports teachers at Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools with grants to help cover the costs of supplies.

Over five years, the class has been able to create an endowment of around $70,000 that is able to administer grants of around $1,300 to teachers’ classrooms and certain school projects. The first grant went to De Ann Bell, a foreign language teacher at Jasper High School. The grant was used to purchase a portable language lab that serves about 500 students in grades nine through twelve.

Being part of the organization has been one of the most meaningful experiences of Luegers’ life.

“Everyone — donors and board members — are like-minded and they have the same objective to continually move the community forward to a better place,” Luegers explained.

He has been able to see that firsthand through the many endowments that are created by community members. Endowments that reflect those community members passion for certain aspects of Dubois County.

“None of this would be possible without donors saying yes to partnering with the foundation,” Executive Director Clayton Boyles said.

He pointed out how 25 years ago donors entrusted the organization with funds to create endowments and some of those original donors are no longer here to see their visions come to fruition.

“We still get to administer their philanthropic intent, interest and passion,” Boyles said. “It (trust) drives our passion to steward someone’s charitable wishes to further our community.”

Looking to the future, the foundation has identified three key areas it will focus on in Dubois County.

The first is continuing to grow assets to meet the needs of the community. This is accomplished through building relationships with individuals and businesses invested in Dubois County’s continued success. “Obviously, we have to grow our assets in order to be able to grant,” Boyles pointed out.

The second key area is to become an asset to help nonprofits that exist in Dubois County. The foundation has a myriad of resources available for helping nonprofits to continue to be viable and impactful in the areas they serve.

The third area is to be a community leader in addressing unmet needs. The past 25 years of foundational growth have placed the organization in an impactful and pivotal position to meet those needs. The $4.4 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to address the mental health and substance abuse issues in our county is a direct result of that strong positioning.

Boyles likens the growth of the Dubois County Community Foundation to the growth of a person to adulthood. They got their footing in 1996 and began building assets. Those assets grew to the point where the foundation could begin to make investments in the community that helped them become a partner in many worthwhile endeavors.

The merger with Huntingburg was a big catalyst for the organization to begin to be more involved in community projects. Afterward, the organization really began looking outward to find ways to be more involved with the community. The Dubois County Community Foundation board and director began to ask, “What can we do to make change?”

In the past five years, Boyles says the organization has really become strategic in partnering with the community. “I think a big element of that is relationship,” he said. “We preach and breathe life into relationships more than anything else here.”

Relationships with board members, team members, donors, and nonprofits are essential to the continued success of the foundation and the community as a whole.

“When you become a trusted a trusted charitable partner, that relationship can really foster so many more things,” Boyles said.

Looking forward and building upon the past 25 years of success, the foundation will continue to steward the philanthropic needs of its many donors. Seeing those dreams of a healthy, vibrant culture in Dubois County come to fruition while focusing and directing grant dollars to worthy causes for perpetuity.

“The success of where we’ve come from, and where it is now is just incredible to me,” Chappell explained. “It speaks to the generosity of the community as a whole.”

Schmitt echoed Chappell.

“The foundation has been a blessing for the community.”