Watching It Grow: Michael and Marla Valliere Plant Seeds of Impact

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

Once a year, Michael and Marla Valliere thumb through a list of organizations that have applied for Community Foundation grants, looking for programs, projects and organizations that speak to them. Their task is to recommend grants from their donor-advised fund—an annual process they enjoy and find rewarding.

But while philanthropy may seem second-nature to them now, the grants they make today are made possible by investments the Vallieres made decades ago. 

In the early 1980’s, as they raised their three daughters in Cedar Rapids, Michael and Marla invested in themselves. Marla taught special education and Mike was one of the first employees of Teleconnect, a local telephone company. As the business grew, the couple lived on Mike’s salary while using Marla’s to purchase stock. 

Teleconnect would eventually merge with another company and become Telecom USA, which was purchased by MCI in 1990. With the sale of the company, the Vallieres’ investment in themselves paid off and allowed them to invest in their community.

“We decided we would put away a lump sum to put our children through college and for some special things,” Marla said. “We also decided to donate an equal sum through the Community Foundation.”

The Vallieres worked with their accountant and the Community Foundation to develop a giving strategy that worked for them and the community. With an initial gift, they established the Michael and Marla Valliere Donor-Advised Fund in 1990, making it one of the earliest such funds at the Community Foundation. The flexibility and longevity of an endowed donor-advised fund was appealing to the budding philanthropists.

“I liked how the Foundation worked and was managed,” Mike said. “It was the best vehicle for us to invest in because we had choices; we could put thought into where the money was going and see its impact.”

Like many experienced philanthropists, the Vallieres prefer this terminology—they aim to make investments, not gifts. In keeping with this perspective, they also established a charitable remainder unitrust in 1990. Through this option, a trust was established and invested to provide annual distributions to the Vallieres. At the end of the trust’s term—20 years, in this case—the remainder was distributed to the Vallieres’ donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation. 

This approach provided Mike and Marla with a source of income while also allowing them to make grants to nonprofits they admire. 

“Because I was in education, a lot of our grants have gone there,” Marla said. “We fell in love with St. Ambrose University during our daughter’s time there, so we provided some scholarships for students who couldn’t otherwise afford private college.”

Marla also served on Mercy Hospital’s auxiliary board after her retirement, leading a committee to award scholarships to Mount Mercy students in healthcare. The Vallieres would later make grants to support these scholarships, as well as religious, environmental and arts organizations. 

The Vallieres moved to Florida in 2019, but philanthropy has helped them maintain a connection to Eastern Iowa. As the seeds they planted continue to flourish, Mike and Marla enjoy thinking about the possibilities ahead.

“We like being able to support a broad range of organizations, and we like being able to provide long-term support,” Mike said. “This fund will be there in the future to support multiple organizations—if the Board manages it correctly,” he joked. “So far, in these last 34 years, they’ve done a very good job of that.”

And while Mike and Marla’s daughters live in Florida, Texas and Davenport, the couple hope the donor-advised fund can serve as a connection to Cedar Rapids for the next generation.

“One of the reasons we did this was so the money would stay there and continue to grow,” Marla said. “It is rewarding that we could do this, and I hope that when Mike and I are gone, the children can continue making grants from this fund.”

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