Four foundation founders recently attended their final meeting of the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation. From left are Mitch Lentz, Sue Kolling and Rod Thompson. Not shown is Mark Reps.
Four foundation founders recently attended their final meeting of the Spring Valley Area Community Foundation. From left are Mitch Lentz, Sue Kolling and Rod Thompson. Not shown is Mark Reps.
The Spring Valley Area Community Foundation (SVACF) bade farewell to four of its founding members during an early-morning meeting at the Spring Valley Public Library last Tuesday, Feb. 7.

President Sue Kolling and fellow founders Rod Thompson, Mitch Lentz and Mark Reps attended their final meeting. The four were the last original board members to serve since the beginning of the foundation six years ago. They made way for new members Leah Stier, Wendy Thon, Dave Foster and Dave Phillips to pursue the organization’s vision and mission. Foster and Phillips were original board members, but had gone off the board when their terms had expired previously.

The local foundation, which operates with the guidance of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), has assisted with or helped sponsor numerous projects over the course of the past several years, including the Gateway Academy Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Camp for Kingsland students and Music in the Park in Spring Valley. It has also helped make repairs at the Wykoff Community Hall, given to the Spring Valley Historical Society, contributed toward the Spring Valley downtown revitalization program, sponsored the Little Huskers 1k youth run, given assistance to programs at Good Earth Village and donated funds to the Kingsland Community Program. The foundation has also helped the Kingsland courtyard outdoor nature classroom, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Family Fun Night and a LEGO program at the schools while also donating to the Cherry Grove ball park’s refurbishment, the Kingsland High School electronic sign, the Spring Valley Public Library’s children’s summer reading program and the Wykoff Veterans’ Memorial while also bringing the Missoula Children’s Theatre to Kingsland.

Ongoing projects being left for new members to take on include the establishment of a state veterans’ home fund for Spring Valley, the annual banquet, another Little Huskers run and Give to the Max Day. Kolling’s role as president of the board for two terms, or six years, was an opportunity to fulfill a dream that members of the Spring Valley area community had entertained.

“In the beginning, we had a dream of creating a community foundation for our area of Spring Valley, Wykoff and Ostrander, and we have taken that dream and made it into reality and an asset to our communities,” she said. “By having a community foundation, we have been able to make grants and bring programming to our community that might not otherwise be possible. Also, with a foundation, we have helped people with their charitable goals.”

She pointed out that she particularly enjoyed watching the Little Huskers competitors as they sprinted from start to the finish line.

“My all-time favorite is the Little Huskers 1k run that is held during Ag Days, from our first year of hoping for 40 runners to last year, with almost 300 kids…their faces and the excitement of these kids, plus promoting healthy lifestyles,” said Kolling. “The other is the annual banquet, which this year is April 1. Our guest speaker is Karice Bezdicek. This is a way to tell our story and the work we have done, and with our live and silent auction, it is our fundraiser that allows us to continue to give out grants.”

The future of the foundation is on her mind as she departs, and perpetuating the SVACF takes dedication of people who understand that what they do to support the foundation has great effects on the people of the communities it serves.

“I am excited about the new board members we are bringing on and the current board. They have a lot of passion and energy to continue the mission of the foundation,” she said.

The continuing board members include Gina Jahn, Lynn Miller, Ken Fetterly, Jay Essig, Deb Zimmer, Mitchell Plaehn, Jeff Eickhoff, Kristi Mettler and Kristin Beck. Zimmer was another original board member who came back on after a break.

“Building a community foundation and an endowment fund is a 100-year plan. We have a new program in place, the Farmland Retention Program, for those who would like to leave a legacy to their community. This program allows the landowners a tax benefit and income stream, the land stays in production, the tenant can continue to rent and farm the land, property taxes are maintained, and this helps build stronger communities,” the outgoing president remarked. “We have many ways one can leave a legacy to their community, and we work with Tim Penny and the folks at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation on a case by case basis. We also benefit from the generosity of our community members by all gifts. This generosity allows us to do the grants and bring the programming work that we do.”

Lentz: Community important

Lentz cited the community effort as the reason that he chose two terms on the foundation’s board.

“A key part of me being involved was that it is a ‘community foundation’ and SVACF serves the particular communities of Spring Valley, Ostrander and Wykoff, and being a part of an idea that has grown to be an ongoing asset to the communities the foundation was set up to support,” he said. “Because the SVACF foundation is focused on the community’s needs, you’re able to help bring together projects and solutions from the funds that will help what is a value and important to that community.”

He appreciates that the foundation has gone “from an idea of a few to an operational tool to benefit the area communities and allow residents and individuals a ‘why’ to invest back into the community.

He also noted that it is important that SVACF operates under the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, which gives board members the resources and access to knowledge to ensure its continuation for years to come and becoming an even bigger asset to the communities they serve. The challenges lie in cultivating donation sources.

“It’s challenging finding funding through generous donations from residents of our community and individuals outside of our communities but part of our extended communities, and grants to help projects in Ostrander, Spring Valley and Wykoff, but I hope for continued success and growth to support our mission,” said Lentz.

Thompson sees benefit

Thompson felt that being a part of the SVACF has been beneficial to him and the community.

“I always thought I supported the communities – as a business owner, you get asked a lot – but seeing the good that volunteers do with a little money and a lot of work makes you want to do a lot more,” he said. “I realized how many selfless, generous people are in our communities. Being part of the background and work gives you even more insight as to how many great givers there are.”

Another reason the foundation is important to him is the option to be creative when needed — using the resources of SMIF to help the local communities, such as helping with the Jones benefit when the business was hit by fire.

“We have made real gains in branding of our group. I feel that the number of grant requests tells us the community has accepted us as a resource for good projects. That tells me we are finding our true mission,” said Thompson. “The state vets’ home is the big dream right now – helping the community land this community-changing project would have a great effect.”

He noted that the SVACF’s vision and aspirations to do things to better the communities takes a “big picture approach — building a structure that will help the communities indefinitely by working towards the goal of creating an endowment that will continue to give, long past the original gift.” The foundation has made good gains in that goal but still needs some help to make a continuous, real impact, he added.

“I enjoyed my time in the SVACF because of the great people on the board. Having Sue as our leader gave us all credibility from the start…she brings her focus to every meeting and project,” said Thompson. “The foundation is here for the community’s benefit. Although we can’t give to every project, we want to make our communities more healthful and vibrant, with an emphasis towards helping our youngest and senior citizens.”

Reps sees hometown prosper

Reps is also proud to have been one of the original board members, having put in six years of service. He felt that continued participation on the board was important even though he no longer lives in Spring Valley.

“I feel a vested interest in seeing my hometown prosper. I felt that through SVACF, it was the best way I could serve the community,” he said. “I would say that the Little Huskers run is our nicest success. The educational and other helpful programs that we donate to that help children, veterans and the elderly are particularly satisfying.”

He observed that the SVACF has grown and become more complex.

“Fortunately, through our donor base, we have been able to grow and do more community-oriented projects for Spring Valley, Wykoff and Ostrander,” said Reps. “We have continually grown our donor base, and that is most helpful. It would be great to get more alumni involved. We are continually seeking to partner with groups, associations and others who have projects that enhance the local area.”

Reps feels it’s most important that word about the SVACF’s mission travels from person to person as its founders move on to seek new challenges.

“The biggest challenge was fundraising, which is an ongoing but fun challenge. Finding projects that are within the definition of our purpose as a nonprofit foundation and knowing how we can best contribute to those is a big challenge. It was and is particularly challenging letting people know we exist, what we do and how they can be a part of that,” he said. “In six years, we have made great strides, but this, I have said from the beginning, is a 100-year project, and I challenge all future board members to know and understand that. I hope its mission expands, grows and multiplies and does even more than the founders dreamed it could. With each project we get involved in, I hope that the communities are better served.

“Secondarily, I would like people to know the good we have done and will continue to do, and thirdly, I would like them to consider a tax-deductible donation to the nonprofit SVACF. All board members donated their time — no one has ever been paid a single dime for all the work they put in. Sue Kolling especially has put in hundreds and hundreds of hours. I’ve enjoyed working with everyone on the board, seeing the SVACF grow and continue to grow. Being part of Sue Kolling’s original vision has been a blessing for all concerned. And I enjoyed every minute of my time, especially getting up at 4 a.m. to drive to 7 a.m. meetings.”