With a Gift to Future Generations, a Family Deepens Its Roots in Minnesota

When The Minneapolis Foundation invited Conley Brooks, Jr. for a conversation about why he decided on behalf of his family to invest in the Pay It Forward FOREVER Fund, he brought two documents to the meeting: The first was a book of old photographs and stories about his family’s history, going all the way back to his great-great-grandfather’s arrival in Minnesota. The second was a printed family tree which Brooks had updated by hand-writing the names and birth dates of his five grandchildren, the oldest of whom is 5.

Sheldon and Conley

Conley Brooks, Jr. and his
great-great-grandfather Sheldon Brooks

For Brooks, contributing to the Fund is a way not only to celebrate his family’s continued presence in Minnesota, but to invest in the community that he hopes his grandchildren will come to know and love as much as he does. “Fifty years from now, I’d love to think that our family will still be present in Minnesota,” he said, “and that some family members alive today will still be around in 2065 to see the impact of investments made in their name fifty years before.”

Created in honor of The Minneapolis Foundation’s Centennial, the Pay It Forward FOREVER Fund is bringing together 100 philanthropists to establish a lasting legacy for Minneapolis. The Foundation is pooling their gifts, of $25,000 apiece, and investing them for maximum growth until the year 2065. At that time, 80 percent of the Fund will be granted out to meet community needs, with the remaining 20 percent retained to keep growing the Fund. Every 50 years, the Foundation will repeat the process—paying it forward, forever.

“I think it would be presumptuous of me to say what the needs are going to be 50 years from now. You have to trust future generations to make the right decisions.”

– Conley Brooks, Jr.

The Brooks family’s investment in the Fund is just one extension of their Minnesota roots, which are already very deep. Brooks’ great-great-grandfather, Sheldon Brooks, moved from New York to the Winona area with his family in 1856 and made a living in the farming, warehousing, and grain elevator business. Sheldon served in the second Minnesota legislature in 1859-60. His three sons formed a partnership that eventually expanded into the lumber business. Their venture expanded rapidly in northern Minnesota, and in 1901 the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company built its first major sawmill in Scanlon, Minnesota. Over the first half of the 20th century, Brooks-Scanlon and its affiliated companies continued to prosper. At mid-century, the family began selling what had become an extensive group of forest products companies in the United States and Canada. The last operation in Bend, Oregon was sold in 1980.

Along the way, Sheldon Brooks’ descendants became civic leaders who helped build many of the landmarks and organizations that define Minneapolis today. For example, Conley Brooks, Jr.’s father served for many years on the board of such bedrock institutions as the First National Bank of Minneapolis (now U.S. Bank), Abbott Hospital (now Abbott Northwestern Hospital), and even The Minneapolis Foundation. Conley Brooks, Jr. himself later served on the Foundation’s board for 11 years.

Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company

The Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company’s mill
in Scanlon, Minn. operated from 1902 to 1910.

The family also became active in philanthropy, supporting causes ranging from medicine to the arts to environmental conservation. In 1948, Conley Brooks, Jr.’s grandparents established the Marbrook Foundation, which today invests in initiatives and organizations that create equal opportunity for immigrants and refugees in the Twin Cities.

Brooks’ family cares deeply about pitching in to help address today’s pressing community needs. By contributing to the Pay It Forward FOREVER Fund through the Conley and Marney Brooks Fund of The Minneapolis Foundation, they’re also investing in the future of Minneapolis. As Brooks pointed out, one of the great advantages of the Fund is that future Twin Cities residents—rather than original investors in the Fund—will decide how best to deploy the Fund’s resources in the community. “I think it would be presumptuous of me to say what the needs are going to be 50 years from now,” he said. “You have to trust future generations to make the right decisions.”

This year, the Foundation is inviting Fund investors to contribute legacy statements—letters, photographs, or mementos—that will be included in the Fund’s founding documents. Fifty years from now, those messages will be shared with the Minneapolis Foundation Trustees as they consider how to allocate the Fund’s first grants. “It’s a great way to send a message to the future, like a time capsule, if you will,” Brooks said. Here’s what he wrote.

Are you interested in joining forces with other visionary philanthropists to create a lasting legacy for Minneapolis? Learn more about the Pay It Forward FOREVER Fund >


Conley Brooks, Jr.’s grandparents, Edward and Markell Brooks, built Eastcliff, a St. Paul home that Markell Brooks later donated to the University of Minnesota. Since 1960, the house has served as the official residence of the University’s presidents.