Chris and Suzy DeWolf Find Joy in Philanthropy

Published: December 7, 2023 | By: Drew Morton | Category:

If you asked those around Chris and Suzy DeWolf to give one word that describes the couple, there’s a good chance they might land on ‘committed.’ Over the years, Chris and Suzy have become known for their commitment to their family, community, and business. Their commitment to each other is of particular note—the two met in preschool and began dating in the sixth grade. 

When talking about how they met, Chris and Suzy say that “the rest is history,” but there’s a bit more to their story. In 2000, they moved back to Cedar Rapids, where they grew up. In 2005, Chris and Suzy purchased Lil’ Drug Store Products from Suzy’s parents, Dennis and Donna Oldorf. Since then, they’ve expanded the business significantly, raised three children, and partnered with a number of local organizations on major projects that have transformed the community. 

Like all their commitments, this desire to support the community has a long history. Both learned the importance of giving back from their parents and have always been eager to build on those lessons. 

“When we moved back to Cedar Rapids, we were in the position to give our time and talents,” Chris and Suzy explained. “What struck us was how easy it was to get involved with local nonprofits.” They both joined boards of directors to give what support they could—Chris at Junior Achievement of Eastern Iowa and Suzy at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. 

In the years that followed, the family business grew and expanded, providing the DeWolfs with the opportunity to also support local organizations financially. But for Chris and Suzy, philanthropy remains about much more than writing a check. 

“One of our goals with philanthropy is the opportunity to make truly transformational change, or in other words, to significantly change the trajectory of an issue in our community,” they reflected. “We seek opportunities to provide influence and thought leadership in addition to financial support – getting behind a project and seeing it to fruition has been one of the great joys in our philanthropic journey.”

Some of those projects have indeed been transformational for Linn County. Chris and Suzy co-chaired Four Oaks’ TotalChild effort, which introduced a whole new approach to serving youth and addressing housing needs in core Cedar Rapids neighborhoods. The DeWolfs, along with Suzy’s mother, also worked with Mercy Medical Center to establish the Dennis & Donna Oldorf Hospice House in honor of Suzy’s father, who died of cancer. The recently opened Chris & Suzy DeWolf Family Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia at Mercy aims to be a national leader in research, training, and education. 

While the DeWolfs enjoy the process of innovative philanthropy, they also recognize the importance of supporting the day-to-day operations of nonprofits. Through the Community Foundation, they have provided support for programs, projects, and general operations at dozens of Linn County organizations. And like their parents before them, Chris and Suzy have passed their thoughtful approach to philanthropy on to the next generation. 

“We believe that philanthropy will be a meaningful tool to unite our family as it grows and evolves,” Chris and Suzy said. “We have been deliberate about engaging our adult-aged children by making sure that their voices are heard and ensuring that they have roles in the family’s foundation and in our partnership with the Community Foundation.”

Through that partnership, the DeWolf family has built a giving strategy that works for them and the community.

“When we first began our philanthropic journey, it was overwhelming. There was so much need, and we didn’t know how to focus and prioritize,” they commented. “For nearly 20 years, the Community Foundation has assisted our family in identifying opportunities that match our goals, vision, and passions.”

After years of intentional and engaged giving, the DeWolfs have established a clear legacy in Linn County. That legacy, of course, is built on commitment.

“We have made a concerted effort to turn our focus away from ourselves, and in return we’ve gained so much more than financial success,” they shared. “Our commitment to others—our family, employees, customers, consumers, and community—is the fuel that has propelled our success. When you prioritize others, anything is possible.”

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Group of teenagers and middle aged adults posing in front of a projector screen.

Nonprofits Supported by the DeWolf Family

Through their funds at the Community Foundation, Chris and Suzy DeWolf have made grants to more than fifty local nonprofit organizations. These gifts have supported transformational projects and daily operations for organizations working across all nonprofit sectors. Here are a few of their grants that are making an impact on our community.

Trees Forever

After immediate needs had been met following the 2020 derecho, a few long-term concerns remained, including the devastated tree canopy. Through their donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation, Chris and Suzy made a grant in 2021 to help Trees Forever replace thousands of trees throughout Linn County. 

“Community leaders such as Chris and Suzy have been instrumental in our ability to begin the reforestation of our Emerald City. With their support and so many others, we have achieved 62% of our overall financial goal for ReLeaf. Families like the DeWolfs are incredibly important to ensuring our ability to bring tree justice and equity to all of Cedar Rapids.” 

– Deb Powers, Interim CEO

Four Oaks Family and Children’s Services

A decade ago, Chris and Suzy provided lead gifts and served as co-chairs in the effort to launch TotalChild—a holistic approach to addressing children’s needs. To date, more than 2,000 children have been served through the program. 

“Chris and Suzy DeWolf are tremendous champions of the children and families served by Four Oaks. Their charitable contributions and commitment have been instrumental in the successful outcomes for those touched by our holistic TotalChild approach. It is leaders like Chris and Suzy who push the bar higher in our community to assure every one of our neighbors succeeds.”  

– Mary Beth O’Neill, President and CEO

Mount Mercy University

Through two designated funds at the Community Foundation, Chris and Suzy have supported a wide range of student programs. Because they are endowed, these funds will provide support for the University forever. 

“The DeWolf family has had a long-standing relationship with Mount Mercy University including Suzy’s late father Dennis serving as a leader on the MMU Board of Trustees. Chris and Suzy’s genuine concern for first generation college students has extended from annual and endowed scholarships for undergraduate students on our main campus to support for MMU’s CRST Graduate Center programs. Chris and Suzy’s philanthropic focus aligns beautifully with Cedar Rapids’ only Catholic University that was built on a foundation of philanthropy for this community.” 

– Brenda Haefner, Vice President Development & Alumni Relations

A college classroom in session.

Mercy Medical Center Foundation

The Chris & Suzy DeWolf Family Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia opened in summer of 2023 and offers tools and resources for those living with dementia and their caregivers. Connected to the HallMar Village, the Center provides unique opportunities for developing new practices. 

“Chris and Suzy’s lead gift establishing a new and unique center focused on applicable aging and dementia strategies has already impacted thousands. The Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia has captured interest in the Midwest and our nation, positively influencing the way we will all age and live with purpose well into our older adult years. Mercy is proud to partner with the DeWolf family in this meaningful work and grateful for their investment in innovation.” 

– Lorrie Erusha, President 

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