Malcolm and Ruth Ann Peel have always seen the value in education and connection. Ruth Ann taught in special education for 17 years before serving for another 15 years as an adjunct professor in the field at Ashland University in Ohio. Malcolm enjoyed a long career in higher education, teaching at three different colleges and serving as department chair at two of them. Along the way, through Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Georgia and Ohio, they prioritized connection—helping others connect to the world around them and maintaining connections to the communities they love, like Cedar Rapids.
From an early age, Malcolm felt called to Christian ministry. He earned a doctorate in religious studies from Yale University, and decided to become an educator himself, eventually making his way to Coe College. Within a few years he was Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion. He stayed at Coe for 17 years, until an interesting proposition pulled him away.
Dr. Joseph McCabe, then the President of Coe, was on the Board of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, and the organization wanted to establish an endowment to support historians looking to study the library’s archives. Connecting with relatives of President Hoover’s administration, a new “Director of Endowment” would lead the effort.
Dr. McCabe nominated Malcolm, who took a leave of absence from Coe, hoping the position would help his chances of one day becoming a college administrator. Malcolm found that his ability to connect with people made him a good fundraiser—the Board of the Library aimed to raise $2 million, and he was able to secure $3 million.
While the Peels were living in Cedar Rapids, Ruth Ann also found her calling while serving as a substitute special education teacher at Prairie High School.
“Though my teaching degree was in business education,” she said, “I enjoyed it so much I returned to school and got certified to teach multi-categorical special education at the University of Iowa. This led me into such teaching for many years.”
Following Malcolm’s work at the Library, he became Chairman of the Department of Bible and Religion at Agnes Scott College near Atlanta, Georgia. But after three years, Cedar Rapids called the Peels back.
By that time, William “Bill” Quarton had issued a challenge to what was then known as the Community Welfare Foundation. If they would commit to becoming a public charity, raise $450,000, and hire a full-time Executive Director, Bill would match the amount through a charitable lead trust. In addition, if the Board could raise an equal amount within three years, Bill would add another $450,000 to his gift.
Of course, Malcolm and the Board accepted the challenge, and the Community Welfare Foundation became the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. By the end of 1989, they had raised more than $1 million.
Malcolm served as the Community Foundation’s first Executive Director from 1989 to 1994. He worked alongside the Board of Directors and Bill Quarton to grow the organization’s endowment to more than $5 million, and with local volunteer Ralph Adolph, he helped establish the Funding Information Center in the Cedar Rapids Public Library. This collection of resources and information was the predecessor of the Nonprofit Network, which continues to serve local organizations to this day.
“Our goal was to create the most knowledgeable and versatile charitable gift-making shop in the community and be viewed as an ally, not a competitor, of all non-profit agencies in Linn County,” Malcolm recalled about those early days. “I had learned that the quality of our life—our music, our education, our attention to the environment, our support of arts and culture, our preservation and interpretation of history and many other initiatives—were all attributable to the non-profit sector.”
By prioritizing both funding and such connections, Malcolm set the Community Foundation on the path to success. Today the Community Foundation provides more than $12 million in grants annually, while also working to connect nonprofits to resources and one another.
With these things in mind, the Peels recently established two endowed funds at the Community Foundation. One will support special education in the Cedar Rapids Community and College Community School Districts; the other will support the work of the Nonprofit Network. By establishing these funds, Malcolm and Ruth Ann hope to inspire others to give through a community foundation—wherever they may be. They opted to make their gifts now, rather than through their estate, in order to experience the benefits of charitable giving to a beloved community while still alive
“These funds, in our judgment, support the services that are vital to the quality of life in a great Iowa community,” Malcolm said. “We are hopeful that others who share our vision may add their own contributions to these funds.”