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 andÂ 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.
Posted by Carol G. Simonetti
Thank you very much for the kind words. It was certainly my privilege to help build a community foundation for Alaska. I have had the wonderful opportunity to work at three community foundations and to work at the Council on Foundations with community foundations around the country and around the world. The first community foundation at which I worked was the Cleveland Foundation. As the first community foundation in the country it obviously was well established with significant assets. The other two foundations, the one here in Alaska and the community foundation in Lorain County Ohio, however both owe their existence to the support of private foundations (Rasmuson in here and the Nord Family Foundation in Ohio). These private foundations saw the benefit of having a foundation in which all citizens could give back to the places they called home.
The Alaska Community Foundation will continue to grow and will become an even more important partner with Rasmuson and the other funders in Alaska in taking on important leadership roles to make Alaska an even better place to live, work and raise a family. I wish the foundation well and am glad to have played a small part in its success. I do want to acknowledge the effort of the two acting directors before I arrived â€“ Dennis McMillan and Marcia Hastings who helped pave the way for its future success. I also want to thank the team that was put together after I arrived who with the new director will continue to build this asset for Alaska. However, the major credit goes to the Rasmuson Foundation and the other foundations that helped support this foundation in its infancy. Thank you for your belief in this concept and I am sure Al is smiling on you too!
Posted by Peg Thomas
Al Heckman was a friend and mentor to me. For twelve years I worked first as a consultant, and then as the Executive Director of the Grotto Foundation. We basically switched roles in 1990. Al and Louis W. Hill Jr., founder of the Grotto Foundation in 1964, had been working together for years–Al worked closely with Louis’ father Louis W. Hill Sr. since 1929. Al arrived in St. Paul from the Cleveland Foundation in 1929 just as the Great Depression was moving west. Louis W. Hill and business leaders realized that the private philanthropy the business leaders were providing was not going to withstand the pending economic challenges. Al helped St. Paul create solutions, oversaw the W.P.A. and went on to be a founder of countless institutions including the Lindstrom Committee (forerunner of the Minnesota Council on Foundations), the Annie Baker Foundation (forerunner of the St. Paul Foundation), Hazelden, Presbyterian Homes, Minnesota Private College Consortium, Minnesota Public Radio, and the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s College. Actually, this is only a sampling–you should see the full list! At Grotto we financed salmon runs in Sitka and you wouldn’t believe how much Louis W., Al, and Bill Randall our Board President knew about salmon. (Louis grew up going to fish camps near Montreal. He knew his stuff). Al also knew about public radio and our foundation funded the Alaska Public Radio Network for many years. For a while most of the Alaska Native Radio Personnel were somehow affiliated with or beneficiaries of the Grotto Native Alaskan Radio Fellowships. Al had heart, conviction, and an open door for anyone. He took his time to understand the issues, the people, the communities, and made decision that supported the can-do people of Alaska. Believe me, I took copious notes!
I have no doubt that he is tickled pink with Carol Simonetti, and is beaming over your success. Well done Alaska!
Peg Thomas, Former Executive Director, Grotto Foundation, Current Senior Partner of Strategeries–nonprofit financial, business and strategic planning.
Posted by Suzanne Yack
Thank you for the very wonderful description of Alaska Community Foundation’s efforts. They would not be possible without many Alaskans and the support of national foundations that believe Alaska can have a strong statewide community foundation.
Thousands of Alaskans have joined the philanthropic movement with donor-advised funds, agency funds, giving circles and designated funds at ACF. These funds make hundreds of grants each year in Alaska and across the world as far away as Malawi.
We appreciate everything that Rasmuson Foundation has done to build ACF as a strong philanthropic partner that is now reaching adulthood. You’ve been cheering us along for years and we have thrived and risen to every challenge. These challenging economic times will not deter us from continuing to build the best community foundation in the country.
The true assets of our state, of course, are her people and their spirit of believing in larger-than-life possibilities. We are a can-do people. Alaska Community Foundation believes in the possibility of creating a broader, more inclusive giving community that softens the geographic boundaries defining each wonderful city, town and village.
You see, you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to have a charitable endowment. Community foundations allow you to live as a philanthropist. And that is a life-transforming experience. Come check us out!
Wishing you every good outcome – Suzanne Yack, interim GM, Alaska Community Foundation