The Rochester Area Foundation's genesis starts with the vision of the late Harry J. Harwick, chairman of the Mayo Foundation from 1939 to 1958. He suggested that a study group be formed in 1942 to determine whether a community foundation would work in Rochester.
A special committee of the Rochester Community Chest was appointed on Oct. 23, 1942, to investigate the feasibility of a community foundation in the city of Rochester. On May 11, 1944, the committee of the community chest recommended to its president and board of directors that a community foundation be formed as quickly as possible.
In December 1944, the Rochester Community Foundation was born. On Dec. 5 of that year, the Mayo Properties Association, now the Mayo Foundation, transferred an unconditional gift of $3,500 to the newly formed Foundation.
In January 1945, the Rochester Community Foundation filed incorporation papers with the state of Minnesota. Harry Harwick was elected as the first chairman.
In 1948, the Foundation made its first grant for $5,000 to assist with the development of a Girl Scout camp.
In 1949, the Foundation received its first major bequest from Jennie E. Mo of Byron. The Jennie Mo trust of $59,410 was dedicated to assisting blind persons and later was expanded to include organizations aiding persons with eye ailments and otherwise handicapped persons. With careful investment through the years, that fund has paid out several times the original investment in total grants to benefit our community.
In 1961, the Foundation changed its name to the Rochester Foundation. The name changed again in 1978 to the Rochester Area Foundation, to reflect a wider area that the foundation was serving. In the same year, the Foundation gave its first area grant - $1,000 to the Chatfield Brass.
In 1983, the Foundation's assets reached $1 million. The board of trustees decided that the increased level of requests and correspondence required the services of a part-time paid employee. At that time, a half-time executive director was hired.
The Foundation celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1985. During its first 40 years, assets grew to $1.3 million with more than $1 million awarded in grants. A half-time administrative assistant was added to assist with growing tasks.
The rate of growth of the Foundation's assets started to accelerate. By December 1988, the endowment rose to $2 million. The following year, 1989, was a pivotal year in the Foundation's history. Alan and Sharon Tuntland established the first donor-advised fund with the Rochester Area Foundation and made the largest gift ever received by the organization.
Although asset growth had continued to accelerate, the increase in the rate of growth was below the level needed to justify the operational costs. In 1993, the trustees decided to pursue a challenge grant to help attract needed current gifts. The process of applying to the Bush Foundation for a challenge grant transformed the Rochester Area Foundation.
The Bush Foundation awarded the Rochester Area Foundation its first ever endowment challenge grant in October 1993. At the time of the award, the Foundation's assets stood at $4 million. The terms of the four-year challenge grant provided for a total of $500,000 in matching funds once the Rochester Area Foundation raised $3.3 million in new endowment. The Rochester Area Foundation completed the campaign 10 months early and at the end of 1997 had reached $10.5 million in assets. The Foundation has had additional opportunities to work with the Bush Foundation in increasing its endowment for the Rochester area.
The Foundation's assets skyrocketed in the 1990s. From the meager beginnings of $75,700 in 1945, the endowment now has reached about $27 million. Again, that's from only slightly more than $3 million in 1990 and doubling that by 1995.
At the same time, grants have increased to the community as well. From $370 in 1950, to $210,000 in 1990, the numbers have continued to rise during the past 15 years. From 1992 to 1996, the Foundation paid out a half-million dollars in grants.
From 2000 to 2010, the community investment totaled $36 million. There have been over 2,000 grants to non-profit organizations equalling $16.5 million, 970 homes created for working families equalling $17 million and an investment of $2.5 million in preparing children for kindergarten success.