From the Start: Celebrating 75 Years of Impact

Published: March 26, 2024 | By: Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation | Category:

In the late 1940’s, as communities across the country began looking toward a post-war future, a group of forward-thinking citizens came together to establish the Community Welfare Foundation of Cedar Rapids. The organization, which would go on to become the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, was created to help philanthropists support the varied and ever-changing needs of the community. 

Research for the endeavor began in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. Some thirty years earlier, philanthropists in Cleveland, Ohio had noticed a trend where charitable funds were controlled by outdated wills, rendering them unable to effectively support the communities to which they had been gifted. The Cleveland Foundation was established in 1914 to offer a way for philanthropists to leave gifts that could be used in response to the community’s changing needs and opportunities. 

By the 1940’s, philanthropists in Linn County had several examples of these “community foundations” to learn from. On February 5, 1949, the Community Welfare Foundation of Cedar Rapids was incorporated to “provide a way to benefit the community without leaving money to a body which for one reason or other may go out of business someday,” said President Van Vechten Shaffer. 

From the start, the Foundation aimed to make it easier to support local nonprofits—it was not to be seen as a competitor of existing organizations, the founders pointed out. 

In its first few years, the all-volunteer organization took in few gifts as the processes for receiving, growing, and distributing funds were ironed out. In 1954, the first grants were awarded—$350 each to the Children’s Home of Cedar Rapids and the Home for Aged Women. 

The Foundation continued granting a few hundred dollars annually until 1972, when the estate of Minnie Rubek bolstered the organization’s assets. A retired member of the cleaning staff at the local utility company, Minnie was the last surviving member of her family and led a quiet life. But her estate, totaling more than $300,000—some $2.2 million in 2024 dollars—made a significant impact on the Foundation and the wider community.

Minnie’s gift greatly increased the Foundation’s ability to make impactful grants, which jumped from $800 in 1971, to $20,000 in 1972. 

By 1987, radio and television executive William B. Quarton recognized that while the Foundation was awarding significant grants, it could have a much larger impact if more of the community got behind the organization. To inspire such support, Bill made a gift of $450,000, pushing Foundation assets over the $1 million mark, which had long been a goal.

But Bill was not a passive philanthropist, and along with his gift he issued a challenge: if the Foundation’s board would change its IRS status from private to public, update the organization’s name to the Greater Cedar Rapids Foundation to reflect its commitment to all of Linn County, and raise an additional $450,000 from the community, he would establish a $900,000 charitable lead trust to benefit the Foundation for the next ten years.  

While the challenge was issued to the Foundation, it was intended for the entire community—William was keen to see if Linn County was interested in building this resource for its future. “If in the next few years it is proven they are, I would like to make another substantial contribution,” he said. 

As has become habit, Linn County responded to the challenge with enthusiasm and generosity. Within the first year of Bill’s three-year challenge, the Foundation took in more than $570,000, easily surpassing the goal. 

“The ability to match Bill Quarton’s generous gift in less than a year shows there are many area donors desirous of giving something back to the community that has been good to them. It also reflects the motivation that his philanthropy has generated,” said Foundation Vice President Russell Hess.

Thanks to the foresight of Bill, the Foundation’s Board of Directors, and the many philanthropists in our community, the Greater Cedar Rapids Foundation received its IRS approval as a public foundation in 1992 (it would become the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation in 2000). By then, assets had grown to more than $3.5 million, cementing the Foundation’s role as a permanent source of support for local nonprofit organizations. 

In the decades since, the Community Foundation has continued to grow partnerships with donors and nonprofits to strengthen Linn County. By the end of 2023, assets reached $212 million, and more than $194 million has been granted since the organization was established. Such growth is made possible by the generosity of donors and a focus on the future. 

“In 2024, we celebrate 75 years of serving Linn County,” said President & CEO Karla Twedt-Ball. “But by no means are we dwelling in the past. The Community Foundation remains committed to the long-term health and wellbeing of our community, and I am excited by the thought of what we might accomplish in the next 75 years.”

Learn more about our history, here.

Learn how we’re celebrating our 75th Anniversary this year, including a Block Party and Free Admission Day to Cultural Institutions, here.

Join us for our 75th Anniversary celebrations and complete our community survey.