Years ago-in the 70’s in fact-a man named Al Heckman, someone I came to know and admire greatly, came to Alaska on a mission. He traveled from Minnesota to spread the word about community foundations. No one he met here was particularly interested. Oh, how I wish Alaska had sat up and taken notice. Al ran two private foundations in the Twin Cities created out of the wealth of James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railroad. Al had come to realize that there was room in the Twin Cities for a variety of philanthropic vehicles. For people who are not Rockefellers but are generous and have amassed a modest amount of money, community foundations provide an opportunity to support organizations, interest areas or communities through endowed funds-either during their lifetime or through their estates.

Perhaps when Al visited Alaska the time was just not right. Twenty years would go by before the The Alaska Community Foundation (ACF) came to be and it tripped along for years spurred on by visionary people who “got it” but had a tough time to getting the idea to catch on. Even still, ACF had amassed $334,000 in assets after two years in existence. In 2002 there was renewed effort to grow and strengthen ACF led by Dennis McMillian, Marcia Hastings and Steve Mahoney. Working with dedicated community volunteers, pretty soon [in 2003] the assets stood at $5.7 million, supporting everything from scholarships for ski education to dental services to communities like Kenai and Eagle River.

In 2006 ACF hired its first full-time CEO, Carol Simonetti, who possessed a wealth of knowledge about community foundations from years in the field in Ohio, Indiana and Washington, DC. Carol assumed leadership as the organization was approaching $20 million in assets, and during her tenure ACF grew to $40.3 million. With support from the Rasmuson Foundation and its partners at the Ford Foundation, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the true-believing C.S. Mott Foundation, the organization grew its capacity to help build community assets and spur the development of new community funds benefiting Petersburg/Klawock, Kenai/Soldotna, Haines/Klukwan, Talkeetna, Seward/Moose Pass, and North Slope–joining Bethel, Homer and Juneau in a new movement to build our Alaska communities.

As Carol prepares to depart Alaska, we tip our hat for your magnificent contribution to our state. And to all the volunteers and staff who work every day to build ACF and the community foundation movement, you have our greatest admiration. From way up in heaven, Al Heckman is smiling at you.