The Community Foundation actually began as a solution to a local problem. Charles and Bernice Minear, two North Manchester residents, wanted to memorialize their son, Robert, who had been killed in World War II. They wished to donate $15,000 to build a cabin in his memory for one of his greatest loves: The Boy Scouts of North Manchester. Unfortunately, the Boy Scout's national bylaws did not permit it to accept title to real estate.
Rather than give up, an alternative was sought. Leslie Yoder, the Minears' trustee, consulted with four local leaders - Dale Strickler, William Visser, Nolan Walker and Wilber Ford-and they found a solution. On January 11, 1954, Articles of Incorporation were filed to create the North Manchester Community Foundation, a conduit through which the charitable goals of individuals and organizations could be realized.
Twenty people were selected to make up the Foundation, with five chosen as Directors. Walker (pictured) was nominated and elected the first president of the Foundation. The other directors included Dale Strickler, Leslie Yoder, Paul Beam and Elwood Dunlavy. Janice Walrod served as the first secretary.
In 1955, Central High School received the first Community Foundation grant-$500 to buy new music equipment.
Next, the Foundation focused on community projects. It worked toward purchasing the town's cemetery, which had become an eyesore and a hazard. After its purchase in 1956, the land was given to the town and would later become Holderman Park. Also in 1956, The Foundation donated $1,000 to the Lion's Club of North Manchester to build a shelter house in Warvel Park. The donation honored two deceased Board Directors, Leslie Yoder and Elwood Dunlavy.
The Minears' wish was realized when the Scout Cabin was dedicated on May 21, 1961. Strickler had invested the Minear funds wisely, making the building a reality in tough economic times.
Today, Scout Cabin (Scout Hall) in North Manchester sits in Warvel Park next to the memorial shelter and hosts not only the area's Boy and Girl Scouts but also Lions and Rotary clubs, the Area 5, Council on Aging, Belles and Beaus square dancing group, family reunions, weddings, auctions, and more.
After determining, in 1964, that there was support for a community pool project, the Foundation started raising money. Funds were collected through door-to-door campaigns, citizen donations and gifts. After four years of construction, the pool was dedicated on August 25, 1968. Its total cost was $300,000. Without the relentless dedication of the Foundation and the hundreds of citizens who contributed time and money, there would have been no pool.
During the 1970s and 1980s, many new projects were introduced:
In 1971, the Foundation accepted a designated gift of $1,250 from the Honeywell Foundation to fund a trail improvement project at Salamonie State Forest initiated by the Salamonie Trail Riders.
In 1972, the Foundation received $300 from H.C. Gemmer Family Christian Foundation to help establish the Help-Hotline program.
The following year attractive directional signs were placed around town to various points of interest such as Warvel Park, the covered bridge, Community Pool, and Scout Hall.
And in 1975, the Foundation received $1,200 in memory of original Board Member Dr. George Seward. The donation was used to acquire the Seward Memorial Building, used today as a meeting place for many area organizations.
In 1981, the first endowment fund, the Dr. Worth M. Walrod Memorial Tree Endowment, was established at the Foundation to honor Dr. Worth Walrod. While the larger trees that line Main Street in North Manchester reflect the beauty of this gift, the new trees that are still being planted today demonstrate the enduring value of the endowment.
Along with these firsts, in 1986 the Foundation continued its community projects; including giving a $5,000 grant to build a gazebo in Warvel Park to mark the town's sesquicentennial.
In that same year, the Foundation embarked on its next big project. Plans for an outdoor sports complex were discussed but the project's estimated costs exceeded $600,000 at the time. The board decided to build the complex in phases as money became available. In 1989, a creative bequest of $250,000 from the Glenn W. Ruppel estate gave the project the financial boost it needed and the right to build a sports complex in the town. Completed in 1992, the Glenn W. Ruppel Sports and Recreation Complex was yet another story of donors and the Community Foundation working well together.
Also during this decade-though unbeknown to most-events were occurring that would allow the Foundation to participate in its next dynamic cycle of growth. In the late 1980s, the Town Life Center was
established when the first North Manchester Town Forum included it as part of its strategic plan. One of the organizations housed in the TLC was Education for Conflict Resolution (ECR). The Town Life Center
and ECR soon proved to be relevant to the Foundation's future. To be eligible to participate in the emerging Lilly Endowment Inc. Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT) initiatives, community foundations had to meet four requirements: have an office, employ staff, hold 501(c)(3) non-profit status, and serve the entire county.
To help the Community Foundation meet these first two requirements, Lilly officials agreed to an arrangement in which one director would be shared between the Foundation, the Town Life Center, and ECR, thus meeting two of the grant requirements: paid staff and office space.
Meeting the next two requirements was easier. The Community Foundation already held 501(c)(3) non-profit status. And its intent to serve the entire county-demonstrated in part through its support of the out-of-town Salamonie Trail Project-qualified it to participate in the Lilly GIFT Initiatives.
The 1990s marked a new period for tremendous growth as Lilly Endowment Inc. proceeded to challenge the Foundation with matching grants. The first grant came in November 1991. It was part of Lilly Endowment's Community Foundation GIFT phase I program—a 15-year, $47 million initiative intended to help expand and strengthen the network of community foundations around Indiana.
The grant challenged the Foundation to raise $1 million during the next five years. If it succeeded the Foundation would qualify for the full challenge, and its endowments would grow by $1.5 million. In addition to that, Lilly offered the Foundation $100,000 in project grants, as well as offering to pay one-third of all operating costs.
That year, the Community Foundation of North Manchester became the Community Foundation of Wabash County, and Carol Horn took the position as the Foundation's first executive director.
By 1993, the Foundation had raised more than $1 million in assets, funding various organizations and allowing an ongoing unrestricted grant cycle. With the tremendous help of the Lilly Endowment, awareness of the Foundation's commitment spread throughout the community and many more organizations began to submit applications for grants, creating the need for a grants committee to evaluate applications.
The Community Foundation continued to enable community improvements and began to help donors create endowments to provide charitable sustainability.
The Mary K. Peabody Foundation made a $2.3 million grant through the Community Foundation to construct North Manchester's new library. Endowment funds were set up to help pay for the library's operating expenses. Scholarship funds were developed, youth outreach and support programs began, and the county's first Habitat for Humanity program was established.
Through the Lilly funds and the generous contributions of county residents, the Foundation was also able to not only help the county build for its future by participating in such ambitious projects as the expansion of the Honeywell Center, but also preserve its past with the renovation of the Honeywell House and the relocation of the historic Thomas Marshall Home to its present site in Holderman Park.
Lilly funds and donations also allowed the Foundation to help others protect the environment and beautify the county through the Manchester Recycling and the Manchester Tree projects.
By 1995, the Community Foundation had reached over $3 million in assets and was preparing to embark on the next two phases of the Lilly GIFT Initiative. In 1997, the Foundation received $500,000 in unrestricted funds in a 1:1 match, and in 1999, another $1 million in a 1:1 match. Because of Lilly's generosity during this decade, many new funds were created and projects supported, and by December of 1999, the market value of the Foundation's permanent endowment was nearly $11 million! With the new millennium also came good fortune when in 2000, the Foundation met all the requirements to receive $1.2 million in unrestricted funds from Lilly GIFT IV.
The recent GIFT V was Lilly Endowment's most ambitious challenge to community foundations. Wabash County was one of only 12 of 92 Indiana counties-and by far the smallest in population-to receive the full match of $2 million! One result of GIFT V is the marked increase in the Foundation's
grant making funds.
Additionally in December of 2000, the Community Foundation was notified that it had been selected as one of the counties in Indiana to receive a grant through Lilly Endowment's Community Alliance to Promote Education Initiative, or CAPE. The $5 million CAPE grant allowed the Community Foundation to fund a variety of programs aimed at raising the level of educational attainment in the county. These programs were initiated to help individuals of every age embrace the value of learning.
In 2001, the Community Foundation moved from the Town Life Center into 218 E. Main Street in North Manchester, where it was located until November 2016. On November 19, a fire broke out in the adjacent building and caused extensive damage to the building at 218 E. Main Street, rendering it destroyed. Effective January 2017, the Community Foundation relocated to its current location at 105 West Second Street, Suite 100, in North Manchester.