nicollet foundation

NICOLLET — A small-town foundation is having big impacts and backers hope to expand their reach.

Greater Nicollet Area Community Foundation President Sue Keithahn said they've been awarding grants since 2014 and now hope to do more partnerships with other community groups and hear more from residents.

"We want to form a group to have conversations in the community about what Nicollet wants and what Nicollet needs."

Gary Schmidt, one of the original board members, said the idea for the foundation came from Nicollet native Frank Starke, who served as president of Alexandria Technical & Community College and Dunwoody Institute.

"He was on the J.A. Wedum Foundation board and they have a very substantial foundation. Frank was doing small-town foundations and we were the third one they worked on. and we are the most successful, they tell us. We're closing in on a half-million dollars," Schmidt said.

"As people come to trust and believe in the foundation, more people donate or leave money in their estate," he said.

Keithahn said income earned from the current endowment allows them to give grants totaling about $12,500 a year in the community of 1,140.

But she said the seven-member board is always looking for more ways to help.

"They're big thinkers. They want stuff done," she said of her board.

The foundation is seeking additional board members in hopes of launching subcommittees that can work on specific projects with residents and other community groups, such as the Lions, Legion and Nicollet Conservation Club.

"We would be a pass-through group for projects. As a nonprofit we are able to accept donations on their behalf and we can donate some more to their projects. There's strength in numbers," she said.

One such alliance involved a group of residents who wanted to build a community ice rink. "They were willing to put the manpower into it, but they needed a little money."

The foundation has focused on grants for the school to buy items like musical equipment and a kiln, and improve baseball fields. They've aided the fire department, the city, a food program for kids, park improvements and other projects.

Keithahn said that beyond growing the foundation, they hope to move into helping raise money for current projects. "We would help raise money for a project, like a walking trail. Some people like to invest in the endowment fund that will be there forever, but some others say they like to give to something that can be done today."

The initial boost to the endowment came from some big donations of $25,000 or more from the Davis family, Crystal Valley Coop, the Wedum Foundation and ProGrowth Bank. Sixteen other individuals or businesses donated between $5,000 and $25,000 and many more gave smaller amounts.

"The heart of it came from local people, a lot of business owners and a lot of other people," Keithahn said. "And the Wedum Foundation gave us seed money and continue to support us. They've been a big part of it."

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