When John Landess left Springfield, Ohio, for Belmont University in Nashville, folks figured he was gone for good. The best and brightest routinely left this once-thriving manufacturing town for better opportunities, and there were precious few jobs to lure them back home.
Rising to vice president at AmSouth, one of the country’s largest financial institutions, Landess had no reason to look back. But when his grandfather Harry Turner died in 2000, leaving $120 million to establish a foundation to help revive Springfield, family and friends asked the then-35-year-old Landess if he would return to the city of 65,000. His new job? The Turner Foundation’s executive director.
“It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a huge impact on the community I grew up with,’’ Landess tells Philanthropy .
Springfield is best known for what it used to be. In the nineteenth century International Harvester, a leading maker of farm machinery that would later employ thousands, was established in the city. By the turn of the century 54 passenger trains, many carrying people looking for jobs, were arriving daily. Springfield was also once the home of Collier’s magazine, a leading shaper of American public opinion throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
But on January 4, 1957, Springfield’s bubble burst. That’s when Collier’s published its last issue and left more than 2,000 people jobless.
”That was a long time ago,“ said Landess. But, ”when a huge company just suddenly goes out of business it messes with the psyche of a community.“
Part of the foundation’s mission is to rebuild that psyche. It has been investing between $6 million and $7 million annually in both the city and Clark County, where Springfield sits. ”Some foundations are focused on one thing,“ says Landess. ”But because we’re focused geographically on a community, we have to look at a diverse range of issues. There are incredible needs. You can’t meet all of them. So you have to look at things practically. What’s going to have the biggest impact on the community? What will get the desired results?“
Recent accomplishments include:
Attracting high-tech business: The foundation was a lead player in persuading Lexis-Nexis to build a $30 million Springfield data center, which is expected to generate at least 80 high-paying jobs annually. Landess sees the 40-acre Lexis-Nexis site as just one of many in a Springfield-Dayton-Columbus technological corridor.
Downtown redevelopment: The Turner Foundation purchased the mortgage of the city’s run-down major hotel, the Springfield Inn, and hired architects to provide a facelift, built a new pool and fitness center, and wired the rooms with high-speed Internet access. The revitalized hotel opens as a Courtyard Marriott in April.
Historic restoration: An architecture buff, Landess has led the foundation in buying 20 historic Springfield houses and paying out-of-town artisans to come to the city to restore them to their original grandeur.
Harry Turner did not provide a detailed blueprint for the future. But Landess tries to honor his grandfather’s legacy by taking ”a practical business mindset“ and ”getting to the bottom of problems.“
Turner made his money in insurance, establishing the Turner Insurance Agency. He also founded Cincinnati Insurance Company, now known as Cincinnati Financial Corporation, one of the 20 largest property casualty insurers in the country.
”He wasn’t necessarily the idea guy,“ says Landess. ”But once someone threw an idea in front of him, he’d jump on board.“
”The most important thing to remember,“ said Sara Landess, 65, a foundation board member and Landess’s mother, ”is that all of this is a gift from God through my father. So we’re delighted to continue this work.“
Landess knows that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that Springfield won’t be rebuilt in a year, or even a decade. But whatever change takes place, the foundation will be in the midst of it.
”We’re looking at perpetuity here,“ says Landess, who joined The Philanthropy Roundtable because he was impressed with its philosophy and ideals. ”We’re laying the foundation for this community to be successful.“
”I’m 38, which is fairly young to be involved in an organization like this. I knew my grandfather. I think I know his values. God willing, I’ll be around for another 40 or 50 years to make sure those values are carried on.“
In nontraditional San Francisco, the Koret Foundation is celebrating 25 years of grantmaking based on the traditional ideals of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who pursued, and realized, the American dream.
Joseph Koret, who emigrated from Russia with his wife Stephanie, a Romanian, started a small clothing business during the 1920s out of the back of his car. Through hard work and creativity, the two built a fashion empire with their company Koret of California, which introduced such innovations as permanent-press fabrics. With their earnings, the Korets bought prime Northern California real estate, investments that eventually became even more valuable than their textile enterprises.
Tad Taube, president of the Koret Foundation
The Korets ”were classic products of the free enterprise system,’’ says Tad Taube, the foundation’s president who knew the Korets as friends and business associates. “Joseph Koret believed in free markets, the free enterprise system, initiative, and responsibility.”
The Koret Foundation was founded in the 1960s and activated in 1979, a year after Stephanie’s death, with funds from her estate. Joseph Koret remarried and served as the foundation’s president and chairman of the board until his death in 1982, at age 81. With gifts from his estate, the foundation’s endowment grew to more than $300 million, where it still stands today.
While Koret’s values were apparent to anyone who knew him, his philanthropic agenda was less than evident.
“Joe Koret really didn’t get involved in philanthropy until the early 1980s,” says Taube, the former chairman and chief executive of Koracorp Industries, the successor to Koret of California. “He really didn’t have a chance to evolve a complex matrix of philanthropic principles. There wasn’t any road map of philanthropic organizations he wanted to emphasize.”
Today the foundation is led by chairman of the board Susan Koret (Joseph’s second wife) and a board of directors that includes Taube. Under their guidance, the foundation has blazed its own trail while striving to remain true to Joseph’s ideals. Over 25 years, the foundation has awarded nearly $277 million in grants, primarily in three broad-based areas:
Israel: It’s not easy to get a reasonable loan to start a small business in Israel. Just ask Vladimir Gelman, who in 1997 saw an opportunity to create a cleaning service, but lacked the money to launch it. Fortunately, the Koret Israel Economic Development Fund (KIEDF) was there to provide several loans to Gelman, who now has 220 employees serving the cities of Beersheva and Eliat. Gelman’s is just one of 1,400 small businesses that have been launched since 1994 thanks to more than $52 million in KIEDF loans. In recent months, the foundation has also awarded emergency loans to businesses devastated by suicide-bombers.
“KIEDF is now the largest private loan provider in Israel, financing small businesses that have already contributed to providing almost 8,000 jobs,” Taube tells Philanthropy. “The program is critical to help offset the negative economic impact of continued terrorism in Israel.”
Jewish life and culture: As one of the country’s largest Jewish-sponsored charitable trusts, the foundation takes its commitment to Jewish faith seriously. It sees the synagogue as a focal point of Jewish life and has given grants to conservative and reform congregations to aid them in reaching out to both affiliated and unaffiliated Jews. These grants have allowed Bay Area synagogues to hire additional leaders and to implement programs that strengthen family involvement in religious life. In just three years, according to the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research, the effort has been so successful that “it could prompt a transformation of the entire context for Jewish communal cooperation.”
Education: Through the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education at the Hoover Institution, the foundation is working to promote reform by funding public policy groups whose goal is to improve national education policies, and by funding programs that “provide models of excellence in areas such as charter schools, teacher incentives, improved teacher education, school choice, and teacher standards.”The Koret Task Force includes such national education reform leaders as Chester E. Finn Jr., Diane Ravitch, Paul Hill, and E.D. Hirsch Jr.
“Our board is very, very involved,” says Taube, adding that there is no consensus yet as to whether the foundation should sunset or function in perpetuity. “We have been described as a director-dominated foundation, which is certainly an accurate description.”
While opinions can be divided when sharp minds attack an issue, the board was in enthusiastic agreement when Taube recommended that the foundation join The Philanthropy Roundtable. Taube believes that Joseph and Stephanie Koret, who knew a thing or two about clothing, would have called it a good fit.