Cook column: The giving tradition begins at home
It was easy to feel small at the Salisbury Community Foundation reception last week, celebrating the organization’s 65th anniversary.
Seated in the room were many of Salisbury’s greatest benefactors ó Stanbacks and Ketners and Smiths and others ó people who have turned their own good fortune into Salisbury-Rowan’s good fortune.
Some found success by carrying on and improving a family enterprise; others are up-by-the-bootstraps success stories, people who started with nothing but a strong work ethic and built a prosperous business.
All have been generous. Through the Salisbury Community Foundation, they and others have distributed some $200 million dollars to worthy causes in Salisbury-Rowan through the years, and another $100 million outside the area.
They’re not just tossing 50 cents in the Salvation Army kettle. These people strategically invest millions of dollars in the community.
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A highlight of the evening was viewing a DVD put together for the foundation, “Inspiring Philanthropy.” It featured many of the people in the room talking about what motivates them to give and what giving means for the community.
Family played a big part. Whether their beginnings were humble or of the silver-spoon variety, nearly everyone recounted parents’ instructions to give back to the community and help others. As Wilson Smith quoted his mother, “Everything we have is a gift of God.”
Some people are open about their giving. Food Lion co-founder Ralph Ketner said he hoped being public about his philanthropy would encourage others to step up, including original stockholders in Food Lion.
Staying in the background suits other donors’ style. Patsy Rendleman said her mother donated funds to put a TV in each room at what was then Rowan Memorial Hospital in the 1950s, and she secretly paid some people’s hospital bills ó when hospital bills weren’t as high as they are now. Those people never knew who had helped them. Her mother went on to start the Proctor Foundation.
Kenan Smith talked about the dash, an image from a sermon that stayed with him. Every headstone shows when a person was born and when he or she died, he said. What’s important is the dash in the middle ó your lifetime ó and what you do with it. Find something you have a passion for, he said, and pitch in.
Fred Stanback’s philanthropic focus has been the environment, protecting open spaces and clean water and air. He said we need to “save what we can as soon as we can, or it will be gone.”
Wilson Smith said his family had gone through the difficult experience of having his wife in a Winston-Salem hospital while he was being treated in a Charlotte hospital. That’s why his family believes so strongly in giving to Rowan Regional Medical Center, to help families have better access to the care they need, close to home.
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Paul Fisher told a funny, touching story. He was in charge of a big fundraising campaign that was in danger of falling short. A woman he knew approached him and put something in his hand. Being a banker, he said, he knew the feel of money. He opened up his hand to find $3. He knew the woman had fallen on hard times; her husband had died and she was not buying all her medicine anymore. “But she wanted to participate,” he said. “That probably caused me to finish the campaign.”
Dyke Messinger and Dianne Scott shared the story of a woman who took a brown paper bag to Rowan Helping Ministries. “She dumped $20,000 in cash on my desk,” Dianne said ó money the woman had been saving for years.
The woman was asked what part of the agency’s work she want the money directed toward.
“It’s not my money any longer,” she replied. “It’s yours. You decide.”
Dianne said all she could do was give the woman a big hug, which prompted the generous soul to say, “I know I’ve done the right thing.”
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Are we doing the right thing when it comes to charitable giving? As the Stanbacks and Hurleys and others lead the charitable charge, are people in younger generations preparing to take over that role?
I am not and will never be in that league ó born with a silver-plated spoon in my mouth, at best, and not an entrepreneur or big investor. The Baby Boomer life experience has not been at all like what the Greatest Generation and other elders went through. So will our giving styles be different, too?
That question is what prompted the “Inspiring Philanthropy” DVD to begin with, Steve Fisher said. Jason Walser, director of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, had raised the question after working closely with several of the community’s more senior givers. What will happen when these wonderful people are gone?
Fortunately, some younger givers are stepping up, and they were in that room, too. Those to whom much has been given ó and those who have earned much ó recognize the duty they have.
The inspiration is all around. Bill Graham recalled as a student seeing names on the buildings at Catawba ó Stanback, Ketner, Hurley ó and realizing how they got there. “You sort of grow up around the examples they set.”
Sara Cook said ó and many echoed this ó we’re blessed to be in a community where giving is a family tradition, passed from generation to generation.
The message I took away from the video was that you don’t have to be an original Food Lion stockholder to help the community. Even $3 can help. Or money stashed away in a bag until a good sum accumulates.
But we shouldn’t settle for $3 or the 50 cents tossed in the kettle if we know ó in our heart of hearts, way down to our wallets ó that we could be doing more.
In the short term, families are suffering and need aid. In the long term, Salisbury’s great institutions and cultural gems require generous support to continue and grow.
If we don’t step up and carry on the tradition, who will?
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For more information on the Salisbury Community Foundation, go to www.fftc.org or call Meg Dees at 704-973-4504.
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.