As we remember an unexpected year, we have nothing but pride looking back at all the amazing accomplishments and things our community did to come together. Looking ahead we can’t be more ecstatic for all the great projects we are going to accomplish, but even more so in an anniversary year!

In 2021, the Jasper Newton Foundation will be celebrating 30 YEARS of existence. We have been more than existing, though. Together we have grown, changed and developed communities in Jasper & Newton counties and have big ideas for what’s ahead. The support of community members, volunteers and donors helped grow Jasper Newton Foundation as an organization and our donors made an impact in serving our communities.   

 The Jasper Newton Foundation will be taking a peek at the projects, people and highlights that have made us who we are in the Jasper & Newton County communities. Expect lots of nostalgia, throwbacks and memories that will be sure to bring back the good ‘ole days. Those good ‘ole days are the days that are currently driving and pushing the Jasper Newton Foundation ahead to what we are going to be in the next 30 years! We hope you follow along and share your memories with us, too. 

The Jasper Newton Foundation Inc. strives to be the “Grand Central Station” of the area as we facilitate strategic partnerships between residents who care and service organizations that need help. We strive each day to weave even tighter connections across the two-county area making the Jasper Newton Foundation a strong vehicle for real community change.

Caption: Pictured above is the Jasper Foundation, Inc. Board of Directors from left: John Egan, Vice President, Edson Murray, Treasurer, Bob Lewis, President, Jack Nesbitt, Connie Kingman, Secretary, Abbie Parmele, Vice President, Bill Ney. Not pictured, Lauretta Anders.

In 1991, The founders of the Jasper Foundation shared this vision and connection in their community. They understood the power of shared endowed funds that could be established to meet the changing needs of the Jasper County Community, and further down our timeline, the Newton County Community. 

One of the Jasper Foundations’ primary goals was to preserve the Carnegie Library. This of course was in addition to providing civic and financial services benefiting the Jasper County community. Board members wrote to local organizations and engaged the community and eventually had the Carnegie Center registered with the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Carnegie Center was officially dedicated  in 1993. Once the original library, the Carnegie Center now housed the Foundation and got to oversee and contribute to community art opportunities and galleries. Don’t worry, a new library was built nearby in 1995. While the space was crucial for Jasper Foundation operations, this space served as a multi-use space that hosted the Greater Rensselaer Chamber of Commerce, the Remington Chamber of Commerce for board meetings and the Prairie Arts Council. Cohabitating in this shared space allowed for more services and collaboration among community organizations that in-turn fostered the beginning of many programs that still exist today in Jasper County.

By having a place to call home base for the Jasper Foundation, the founding members used their understanding and shared vision to continue to search for and recognize opportunities of all kinds to engage their community. 

Having the people and the place to tackle change and provide services and support is a huge step in building this community. The next part that was left was the funding. 

 Dr. Cecil Johnson, a local family doctor and his wife, Gladys (Culp) Johnson were Jasper County community members from the early 1900s to late 1950s. They both had roots here in Rensselaer and made their way back to Jasper County.  Both Gladys & Cecil valued continued education for young people, especially in the medical field and decided to start the Dr. Cecil E. and Mrs. Glady Johnson Memorial Fund. This transfer of funds was used for part of the GIFT I matching grant that established the endowment of the Jasper Foundation. 

In September of 1994, First of America Bank transferred the control of the Johnson Trust to the Jasper Foundation, thus qualifying the foundation for matching funds in the GIFT I initiative.

GIFT stands for “Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow” and Lilly Endowment saw this opportunity to bolster the philanthropic network in Indiana through its community foundations.  GIFT I was the first phase of this initiative and match dollars were awarded to qualifying community foundations for asset building,  local projects, and operating. To this day, the partnership the Lilly Endowment Inc. has with the Jasper Newton Foundation continues to be important to the growth and development of foundation assets and donor relationships.

Johnson’s original gift of $1,298,614, established the Johnson Scholarship Endowment and also resulted in the establishment of the $500,000 unrestricted Jasper County Community Fund which is dedicated to grants for nonprofits in Jasper County. The power of endowments can be seen in the Dr. Cecil E. and Mrs. Glady Johnson Memorial Fund as it has awarded over $1.4 million dollars in scholarships since 1994 (more than the original gift amount) and has helped over 1,000  students.

Early Jasper Foundation board member, Jack Nesbitt was responsible and heavily involved in the planning of the first Riley Read programs, where speakers would  read poems and stories by James Whitcomb Riley in the park to participants. Readers would often dress in historically accurate clothing and read the stories often in conjunction with fall community festivities.  Community members take pride in celebrating the works of Indiana’s son, James Whitcomb Riley who not only impacted literature but other aspects of Hoosier life.  Riley is especially important to our community due to his popular piece, “Lil Cousin Jasper.”In 1994 the fifth annual Riley Read took place at Brookside Park.  

Today, community member Heather Hall, is working to bring back this nostalgic event to Rensselaer. She says, “ The annual Riley Read has become a central piece to the Rensselaer Parks event, Fall Fest. I appreciate how events such as the Riley Read brought people together; especially families.”

Together, communities can make change happen! These 8+  individuals made relationships, connections and had conversations that ignited change and activity to happen even in the smallest of communities. They loved where they lived and had the motivation to inspire others to take action. 

Leave a comment if you have a memory to share. Be sure to check back each Thursday for the next blog post! 

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