NEW ULM - The New Ulm Area Foundation, founded in 1987 with a $100,000 gift from Henry Somsen in memory of his wife, Anne Somsen, has grown over the years to a fund of around $1.2 million.
The fund is getting a major boost this year with a matching grant gift from the Mickelson Media Foundation. The Mickelson family, former owners of The Journal and a number of other southern Minnesota papers, radio and television stations, and cable companies, has pledged to give up to $250,000 over the next three years to the fund, if the fund can raise another $250,000 in community donations to match it.
The $250,000 gift is the largest ever received by the New Ulm Area Foundation.
Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
Members of the New Ulm Area Foundation met with Thor Mickelson last week to announce the Mickelson Media Foundation’s $250,000 matching grant gift to the New Ulm Area Foundation. From left are Julie Baumgartner, a member of the Foundation Board of Directors, Mary Ellen Domeier, a former board member, Nancy Quam, Foundation administrator (holding a lit match that signifies the “match” portion of the gift), and Thor Mickelson, grandson of former Journal publisher Walter K. Mickelson and son of former publisher Bill Mickelson.
The New Ulm Area Foundation has embarked on a fundraising campaign called "Be A Part of the Match." It has already reached out to some private donors, and is beginning its public fundraising effort.
The prospect of building the fund by $500,000 has energized and invigorated the Foundation's board of directors, said Julie Baumgartner, a board member and a co-chair of the fund drive.
"When we found out about (the Mickelson fund) offer, the energy in the room went WOW!" said Baumgartner.
Thor Mickelson, grandson of Walter K. Mickelson, who for decades was publisher of The Journal, said the gift from the Mickelson Media Foundation is part of the family's continuing effort to give back to the communities that helped build the family's success. It is the second major gift to the foundation the famliy has made. In the 1995-96, the famliy donated $100,000 to the Foundation to create the Bill Mackin Fund, in honor of the long-time editor of The Journal.
The Mickelson Media Foundation was formed after the family sold its communications business in 1989. Another Mickelson family foundation, the Scandia Foundation, is also participating in the challenge grant.
NU Telecom has also donated a total of $100,000 to create the NU Telecom Endowment Fund.
Thor Mickelson said he believes successful community funds need both large individual gifts and community support. He has come across letters his grandfather wrote in 1964, trying to set up a community fund. He had intended to give $50,000 if he could find others to donate another $50,000. When Walter Mickelson was unsuccessful in finding partners he gave up on the idea. It wasn't until 1987 and Somsen's gift that the fund was created, with a community fundraising effort to bolster his gift.
"It makes the point of the match being more important than the individual gift," said Thor Mickelson.
His family's experience in other communities where they have helped establish funds shows that where the community gets involved, the community fund thrives. He said New Ulm is a prime example of that. Its fund has grown and been successful through other gifts.
"When we decided to focus our gifts on one community, we thought, 'Where better than New Ulm?'" he said.
The gift comes at an important time for the Foundation, said Baumgartner.
"We're really going to make some inroads in our endowment dollars, and we can use these dollars in the various areas we support," she said.
The New Ulm Foundation is an endowment fund. Its endowment fund is invested through the Minnesota Community Fund organization, and the earnings are used each year to fund grants that support New Ulm and the area in four major areas: the arts, education, economic development and historical preservation.
Since 1989, the fund has distributed $507,195 in grants. Most grants have been smaller ones, anywhere from $150 to help fund downtown flowers in the summer to $2,000 to $3,000 for pojects like accelerated math programs at Jefferson School, restoration work at the Wanda Gag House and other landmarks, Minnesota River awareness projects, Putting Green, or Teen Court.
In more recent years it has started identifying and supporting larger projects. The Foundation gave a total of $50,000 in 2008 and 2009 to the New Ulm Youth Soccer Association to help build a large soccer complex in cooperation with Martin Luther College, and it donated $15,000 in 2012, and another $10,000 in 2013, to the Grand Center for Arts & Culture for its 3rd floor art gallery.
The foundation also administers an annual scholarship program, the New Ulm Foundation Scholarship Program. This year the foundation awarded $6,400 in scholarships to 13 graduating seniors from New Ulm HIgh School, Cathedral High School, and Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School.
The foundataion made large grants to Brown County Historical Museum for a third floor display for the 150th commemoration of the U.S.-Dakota War. It has funded improvements for the Kiesling House, and recently made a grant to Milford Township to research the possibility of moving and restoring the historic Milford Township Schoolhouse.
The growth of the fund by $500,000 will allow the foundation to significantly increase its grant giving each year.
For more information on the foundation and the program, go to www.newulmareafoundation.org, of call 507-354-3337.