Granger, Kearneys honored for their philanthropic spirit

Community Foundation ups its grant-making by 300%

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter



When the young Granger family lived in Wallowa County, Ore., a nearby memorial to the early pioneers needed help. It was sinking beneath overgrown bushes and blackberry bramble.

Family matriarch Mary Granger hatched the idea of pulling people together to clean up the historic spot and make it sing again. With abundant teamwork, daughter Janice Call remembered, what seemed a big job only took a day — plus, she added, the commitment to go mow and maintain the place every weekend from then on.

It’s a typical story from the life of the late Mary Granger, Call told more than 600 people who gathered at the Hilton Vancouver Washington on Tuesday for the annual luncheon of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington. She was visionary, she was passionate, and she brought people together, Call said.

Granger was first recipient of the foundation’s new Catalyst Award for Philanthropic Innovation, honoring creative approaches to addressing community needs through philanthropy. Foundation President Rick Melching said Granger was chosen as the first Catalyst Award winner for her original thinking, “her ambition and the stunning results she achieved.”

Granger, who died last November at age 78, was a key founder of the Community Foundation in the early 1980s — in the midst of recession, Melching pointed out. She went on to launch many other programs and projects aimed mostly at children in need — from the I Have A Dream college preparatory program for the low-income to the Principal’s Checkbook, a discretionary fund for school principals to help children with basics like books and clothes.

“Catalyst seems to be the perfect word to describe her,” Call said.

Granger’s son Mark added this memory: Dad used to get home from work and Mom would immediately hand over the children and head out to what were known as “PEO meetings.” PEO is a women’s pro-education group, but the kids figured it must stand for Pop Eats Out.

Also honored at the Community Foundation luncheon were Max Kamp, a Longview resident and financial adviser who started Continental Investors Services. Kamp has encouraged many of his clients to start charitable giving and helped launch the Cowlitz County Community Fund. He was awarded the 2011 Friend of the Foundation award.

Lee and Connie Kearney won the day’s biggest prize — the foundation’s 2011 Philanthropist of the Year award. They are noted for their financial support of numerous local facilities — the Kearney Breast Center at Southwest Washington Medical Center, the “O.K. Clubhouse & Teen Turf” Boys & Girls Club in Bagley Downs, the Clark County Historical Society, the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington, the YWCA Clark County (where Connie served as a board member for six years) and Daybreak Youth Services, a drug rehabilitation facility for teen boys.

Perhaps most of all, they are known for their support of their alma mater and the place they met, Oregon State University, where their name is on the building that houses the civil and construction engineering programs.

There’s even an endowed faculty chair of law in Connie’s name at Creighton Law School in Omaha, Neb., where Connie received her law degree. Connie was Clark County’s first woman commissioner (1976-1980), a seat she won after leading the creation of Salmon Creek Park at Klineline Pond out of hazardous property — a former gravel pit.

A video of friends and admirers thanking the Kearneys for their many gifts and good works eventually honed in on a humble fisherman casting on the bank at Klineline Pond — a fisherman who turns out to be local philanthropist Ed Lynch, a previous Philanthropist of the Year.

“Thank you for making this park happen,” Lynch says from under a canvas fishing hat. “I think I got something here — I better go!”

‘Good community’

The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington is the area’s leading philanthropic agency dedicated to supporting local needs and causes.

According to board Chairman David Nierenberg, the foundation increased its grant-making by 300 percent in the past year — giving out $3.1 million in 2009 and $10.3 million in 2010 — while giving by community foundations declined nationally by around two percent, he said.

The foundation supported some landmark local building projects, he said, including the new downtown library, the new Clark County Food Bank, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington building and Congregation Kol Ami’s planned synagogue in the Glenwood area.

Another major milestone the foundation marked in 2010, Nierenberg said, was passing the $100 million mark in terms of total dollars it’s given out since its founding in 1984. And there’s already another $100 million in existing accounts and pledges, he said.

“We believe giving defines what is a good community,” he said.

A highlight of the luncheon was the introduction of the foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Program, which has assembled a board of high-schoolers to survey their peers and study the nonprofit agencies that serve them. Their conclusion was that economic instability was the chief problem they should attack, and the grant recipients they selected included the Clark County Food Bank, Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington, Share, Northwest Children’s Outreach and the Rocksolid Teen Center.

“We know that we have a deeply rooted community tradition of giving back,” said Elodie Nierenberg, a member of the teen board. “For example, local landmarks bear the names of Patrick Hough and Mother Joseph, two of our region’s early pioneers — a schoolteacher and a nun — who believed that helping others is one of life’s highest callings.”