50 Years

“50 Years” by Sharon Mortensen

Let’s take a stroll back in time to October 1, 1973. On this Monday in the fall, days are getting shorter and temperatures are getting cooler. Richard Nixon is the President of the United States. Popular television shows are “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Odd Couple,” “Sanford and Son,” and “Barnaby Jones.” In America, the song Half-breed by Cher is at the top of the singles charts and radio stations are playing songs from artists such as The Rolling Stones, Tony Orlando & Dawn, Sweet, Elton John, Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, Marvin Gaye and Jim Croce.

People are playing video games such as “Pong” and “Space Race.” Kids and teenagers are watching TV shows such as “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” and “Inch High, Private Eye.” Children are playing with toys such as Etch A Sketch, Operation, Weebles, and the Rock Flowers dolls.

Meanwhile, an innovative organization in Midland is quietly starting. The Midland Area Community Foundation, originally known as the Midland Foundation, is incorporated on this day. A small group of forward-thinking Midland leaders convened to form an organization that would allow people of ordinary means to create a charitable legacy in concert with many others who shared the vision of improving their community and the lives of their neighbors.

Described as “by the people, for the people,” the stated purpose of the organization was to improve the quality of life in Midland County. Midland was home to family and corporate foundations. The Midland Area Community Foundation expanded participation in philanthropy, allowing everyday people to contribute their resources and transform their community, knowing their gifts would last in perpetuity.

Carl and Esther Gerstacker both grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where the Cleveland Foundation had been undergirding the community and accomplishing major tasks like downtown renovation. The Cleveland Foundation, established in 1914, was the first community foundation. Inspired by this example, the original founders believed that great improvements could take place by soliciting the contributions of local people and using them for specific projects to benefit Midland.

Esther Gerstacker, one of the early presidents, later wrote that the Midland Area Community Foundation is “a combination of many gifts, large and small, from many people, managed as a public fund for the long-term benefit of the community. Its purpose is to make Midland ….. a better place to live – not just now, but to enrich the lives of all future generation of Midlanders.”

Fifteen individuals, twelve men and three women, from a variety of different backgrounds, were the founding trustees. These individuals continued their innovative and bold thinking when, just four months after incorporation, the Midland Foundation became a collaborator on its first of many major projects, the Greenbelt Project.

The first major gift to the Midland Foundation, $500,000 from the Macauley and Helen Dow Whiting Foundation, helped to start Whiting Overlook Park, a park still owned and maintained by the Community Foundation today. The first scholarship fund started one year later, as the Community Foundation began ongoing investment in education for youth. Other meaningful projects followed including Washington Woods, the Tridge, the Santa House, the Rail Trail and more. And impactful initiatives such as the Cultural Awareness Coalition were born at the Community Foundation.

In the 50 years since its founding on October 1 of 1973, the Midland Area Community Foundation has invested over $150 million in the community. Beyond grantmaking, the Community Foundation has played an important role as community leaders with deep local relationships, knowledge of local challenges and opportunities, and the ability to listen to community voices and advocate for policies that improve the quality of life.

The purpose of the Community Foundation today remains true to its roots. The Community Foundation exists to cultivate the power of giving, support long-term transformation and help ensure all residents thrive. For good. For ever. For all.

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