Documenting a legacy for future generations: The Triad Foundation

Imagine a pot of money that supports both the progressive Media Matters and the conservative Media Research Center. Both the Center for Public Integrity and the Heritage Foundation. Both Mother Jones and National Review. That describes the fortune earned by media executive and businessman Roy Hampton Park, the founder of the Duncan Hines line of packaged foods and a pioneer in the world of newspapers, broadcasting, and other mass communications.

Today Park’s money supports two separate family foundations based in Ithaca, New York. The story of the split of the Park and Triad Foundations offers a final example for this chapter on recovering donor intent when things go wrong.

Roy Park was a determined, individualistic entrepreneur—a self-made man in the truest sense. He created the Park Foundation in 1966 and gave generously to educational, religious, and other charitable organizations in his home community of Ithaca and in other locales where he owned media outlets. Park passed away in 1993, by which time Park Communications had acquired or created 22 radio stations, 11 television stations, and 144 publications, including 42 newspapers.

With an infusion of most of the $711 million from the company’s sale in the mid-1990s, the Park Foundation transformed very suddenly from a modest, company-oriented foundation run primarily by the donor and his spouse into a significantly larger family foundation with a board composed of both family and non-family members.

The Park Foundation trustees agreed on certain aspects of Roy Park’s legacy, which allowed them to establish, in 1996, scholarship and fellowship programs at Cornell University, Ithaca College, North Carolina State University (his alma mater), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, Park’s two children—Roy Park Jr. and Adelaide Park Gomer—sparred over the ideological direction of the foundation in the ensuing years. Park Jr. objected to funds used for environmental activism and other left-wing causes.

“It was heartbreaking to see what my father worked so hard to make being directed to grants I felt were so unrelated to what he believed,” Park Jr. says. The conflict came to a head in the fall of 2001, when Park’s widow, Dorothy Park, proposed to split the foundation into two with separate boards. Dorothy and her daughter Adelaide continued to operate the now left-leaning Park Foundation, while her son Roy took the helm of the right-leaning Triad Foundation, with his own son and daughter as his fellow directors.

Donor Roy Park’s biggest misstep was leaving nothing in writing regarding his mission and intentions for his foundation. Like John Andrus, he may have assumed that his conservative and free-market beliefs could be easily deciphered from his political and religious leanings, his work ethic and entrepreneurial nature, his own track record of philanthropy, and the personal letters and public statements he left behind. But without explicitly clear instructions, family members drew widely divergent conclusions. Today both his daughter and son maintain that they are following Park’s donor intent, even though their philanthropic priorities are poles apart.

To reduce confusion heading into the future, and to strengthen donor intent at the Triad Foundation, Roy Park Jr. has written a legacy statement codifying his father’s philanthropic values for future generations. It contains a statement of principles and a detailed philanthropic biography of his father—a concrete look into who the man was and what he believed, including ample direct quotes. It makes clear that Roy Park supported democracy and free enterprise, limited government, religious liberty and freedom of thought, and broad access to education and employment. It also contains a geographic restriction, focusing community-based grants on the areas where Triad Foundation family members reside.

“Triad seeks to avoid the trend of most foundations established by free-enterprise entrepreneurs which almost inevitably, once the founders pass on, move firmly into the grip of orthodox liberalism,” Park Jr. explains. In his book, Sons in the Shadows, Park Jr. is even more adamant: “My father’s legacy is not one to be forgotten, and what he worked for all his life should not be ignored or refuted. I was sensitive to erosion of his hardworking lifetime ideals, and despite the absence of his intentions for the foundation’s mission in his will, the philanthropic objectives that best reflected the interests of my side of the family were evident in the previous 30-year history of his grantmaking.… As far as my family was concerned, no one was going to trample on his grave.”