A yearlong review of nonprofit foundations in Trumbull and Mahoning counties shows a long line of generosity and concern that Mahoning Valley residents can be proud of. It also shows that more can be done by tracking down forgotten benefactors and placing small charitable trusts under the umbrella of one of our community foundations.
From the late 1800s through the 1960s, steel barons, other industrialists and many professionals in the Mahoning Valley accumulated vast amounts of wealth. To carry on their legacies, many created charitable foundations or trusts.
Raymond John Wean, for example, launched the family foundation in 1949 after making a fortune with the engineering company he created during The Great Depression. The foundation is now worth $90 million. His grandson, Gordon Wean, makes sure that the spirit of his elder's intentions - helping to improve needy communities in the Mahoning Valley - are carried out.
Isadore Van Huffel established a steel business that his son Harold helped grow for about a half a century. The business is gone but the I. J. Van Huffel Foundation, with more than $2 million, continues to make life better for others in the Mahoning Valley.
Thomas Noll was an early steel baron in Youngstown. His granddaughter, Marion Resch, established a foundation now worth more than $21 million. It provides scholarships annually to students in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.
There are hundreds of these examples and hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, of dollars that generate interest that gets spent on important Valley causes. This should serve as a source of pride, knowing how much the great industrial pioneers and their heirs cared about the community. It's another reason the Valley is a great place to live.
A year's worth of research by the Tribune Chronicle indicates that there is more out there. A tip-off was the William Swanston Foundation.
In 1921 William Swanston, a successful and philanthropic farmer from Canfield, died and left $100,000 and 100 acres of land to fund orphanages. The U.S. stopped running orphanages and established countywide children services. There was nothing for the five local bank trustees to spend Swanston's money on, and the assets were eventually forgotten. It was discovered in 1980 that the William Swanston Foundation had grown to $8 million.
Swanston's legacy is now being carried out by helping children in struggling school systems improve their educational performance.
It is now common belief that there are many more charities that have been forgotten. Philanthropists' heirs moved or died and the banks that housed their foundations were taken over by out-of-town institutions leaving fund managers without local ties as the only people with knowledge of their existence.
For example, some local residents remember that the former Dollar Savings & Trust Co. in Youngstown had a trust to provide scholarships to Mahoning Valley students attending Virginia Military Academy. Dollar Savings is now in the hands of a national bank chain and if the trust still exists it is probably managed by a banker in Cleveland, Pittsburgh or even New York or Chicago. That banker probably doesn't have time to assemble a committee here to even find a local kid attending VMI.
Until somebody stumbles upon them, like somebody stumbled upon the Swanston Foundation, trusts like this will continue building assets, continue paying management fees to the banks that house them, and never reach their intended beneficiaries.
Many other charitable foundations have banks as their sole trustee. The banks hire themselves to manage the funds - make investments, file IRS reports, etc. - but many not make an effort to disperse to the funds' designated causes. They may also be paying more for management, and less on charitable causes, by not bidding out for the services.
Standalone foundations also absorb costs that would be blunted if they were under the umbrella of one of the Valley's community foundations, which act like clearinghouses that spread the cost.
It would behoove people in the community to locate and act on untapped resources.
Still, the numbers of active charities is quite startling. The Tribune found 1,180 non-profits worth nearly $4 billion in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, according to 2009 IRS records. The biggest, Humility of Mary Health Partners, provided more than $50 million in charity care that year.
There is certainly a lot of satisfaction in knowing local philanthropy dating back a century or more is still meeting needs in the Mahoning Valley.