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Our
Legacy

Discover the history of the Minneapolis Foundation

It Began
in 1915

A lawyer, two lumbermen and two bankers came together with a vision: To build “a wisely planned and enduring fabric” to benefit the community for years to come. They brought that vision to life by establishing the Minneapolis Foundation. Explore these highlights from our history.

  • 1920s

    1922

    Wells family legacy

    The Wells family established their first family fund in honor of Thomas Wells, beginning a multigenerational relationship with The Minneapolis Foundation. Each fund has served a different purpose over the years: Supporting the Wells Memorial House, a social services and settlement house. Providing medical services for working women. Sustaining the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Dunwoody Institute, and the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts. The Wells family’s legacy lives on in all corners of our community to this day, and will for generations to come.

    1924

    NOT AFRAID TO PADDLE UPSTREAM

    Conservationist and philanthropist Frances Andrews helped secure federal protection of 640,000 acres in what ultimately became the Boundary Waters. Today, more than one million acres are federally protected. With 250,000 annual visitors, the Boundary Waters is the most visited wilderness area in the United States!

    1926

    MORE THAN JUST A BAND-AID

    In 1926, the Minneapolis Foundation became the fiscal agent for the University of Minnesota Medical School Endowment Fund. The Foundation also fundraised for the construction of new medical facilities

    1929

    MORE THAN JUST A DISCO

    The Village People aren’t the only ones dancing. As far back as 1929, the Foundation was doing the YMCA, too! Some of the Foundation’s earliest grants went to the YMCA, which continues to receive support from our donors. The Foundation is proud of our longstanding partnership with this community institution on projects that have ranged from renovation work to family counseling services to the majestic Camp Tamarac.

  • 1930s

    1930

    THE CITY’S DEBT TO MR. BOUTELL

    “The City’s Debt to Mr. Boutell” was the headline of a news story that ran in the Minneapolis Tribune after Walter D. Boutell died. We’re still in his debt. Boutell cared deeply about children, expectant mothers, and the poor, and his compassion lives on through a community gift that he entrusted to the Foundation. Decades after his death, his legacy paid for “camperships” that sent struggling Minnesota kids to summer camp. The Boutell fund still supports the causes he cared about, from home health nursing to the Salvation Army.

    1931

    SAMUEL HILL

    Samuel Hill was a lawyer and railroad executive who worked for the Great Northern Railroad at the end of the 19th century. He also served for a time as vice president of the Minneapolis Athenaeum, a private subscription library established in 1859 that was the precursor of the Minneapolis Public Library. When he died in 1931, Hill was vice president and owned hundreds of shares of stock in the Athenaeum, giving him a controlling interest in the corporation. In his will, Hill entrusted the stock to the Minneapolis Foundation.

    Today, the Minneapolis Athenaeum shares space with Special Collections at the Minneapolis Central Library. Highlights of its collection include an original hand-colored edition of Audubon’s Birds of America and many important early books on Native American communities.

    1932

    QUALITY HEALTHCARE FOR ALL

    The Visiting Nurses Association, an early Foundation grant recipient, built a curative workshop in downtown Minneapolis to better serve the community’s health care needs. Today, Foundation donors proudly continue to support MVNA’s mission to improve lives at all ages through home and community health services.

  • 1940s

    1941

    EMERGENCY RESPONSE: PEARL HARBOR

    Just weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Foundation approved a grant to the emergency fund of the American Red Cross to support immediate needs.

    1942

    A MEDICAL PIONEER MOVES TO MINNEAPOLIS

    Got aches and pains? Sister Kenny probably had a solution. Australian nurse Elizabeth Kenny, aka “Sister Kenny,” revolutionized the treatment of polio in the early 1900s when she applied moist hot packs to help loosen muscles, relieve pain, and enable limbs to be moved, stretched, and strengthened. In 1940, she made her way to Minneapolis, bringing along her pioneering principles of muscle rehabilitation, which became the foundation of physical therapy. Established in 1942, The Sister Kenny Institute quickly became one of the nation’s premier rehabilitation centers. It’s no wonder The Minneapolis Foundation chose to invest in it in the 1950s!

    Today, Sister Kenny’s legacy lives on at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. The institute aims to maximize quality of life for people of all ages and all abilities.

    1943

    COMMUNITY CHEST

    During the 1940s, the Minneapolis Foundation made regular contributions to the Minneapolis War Chest and Community Chest (early United Way campaigns) to support social services.

    In addition to sharing a Centennial, the United Way and the Foundation have something else in common: Flexibility. Together, we are continuing to meet the ever-changing needs in our community.

    1945

    A LUMBERMAN WITH AN EAR FOR TIMBRE

    Did you know that the Minneapolis Foundation and the Minnesota Orchestra have a founder in common? E.L. Carpenter, a lumberman with an ear for timbre, helped found the orchestra and served as president of the Minnesota Orchestral Association from 1905 to 1945. Upon his death in 1945, the Minneapolis Tribune wrote, “Death Monday took the last of Minnesota’s empire builders, a man with the vision to see that the ring of the lumberjack’s saw could be transmuted into the deep resonance of a great orchestra.”

    Originally founded as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, which gave its first performance in 1903, the internationally acclaimed Minnesota Orchestra adopted its current name in 1968. In a typical year, the orchestra presents nearly 175 programs to live audiences totaling 350,000 people.

  • 1950s

    1950

    A HOTEL BECOMES A HOME

    The Minneapolis Foundation purchased the Field Hotel on South Eighth Street in Minneapolis to help The Braille Center expand its counseling and nursing services for the blind. Today, that building is occupied by House of Charity, an organization dedicated to helping homeless men and women.

    1952

    THE ARTIFICIAL KIDNEY

    Patients suffering from kidney disease took advantage of a new “artificial kidney,” the forerunner of dialysis, at Minneapolis General Hospital (now Hennepin County Medical Center), which was funded in part by the Foundation.

    1957

    OUTSTANDING PUBLIC TELEVISION

    Before there was Downton Abbey, Minnesotans relied on KTCA to provide outstanding public television programs. The Foundation has been a long-time funding partner of KTCA, underwriting programs like Backwards to Back Streets, a documentary exploring the world of the mentally ill.

    1958

    COFFEE WITH YOUR CONCERT?

    That was the idea behind a series of daytime concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra that were underwritten by a fund at the Foundation.

  • 1960s

    1963

    A THEATER FOR THE PEOPLE

    Sir Tyrone Guthrie may have hailed from England, but it was Minneapolis where he built the theater named in his honor. The Guthrie opened in 1963—with help from the Minneapolis Foundation, which contributed to the theater’s construction fund.

    1968

    HELP IN A TIME OF CRISIS

    A longtime fund at the Foundation, the Minneapolis Emergency Fund was conceived in 1968 as a resource for disadvantaged people. The fund made emergency grants to both individuals and human service organizations, helping members of our community in times of crisis.

    1969

    ANGELS FOR EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

    A group of wealthy Minneapolis-area families anonymously pooled their money to help low-income minority individuals make down payments on homes and obtain seed money for businesses. The fund was called the Minneapolis Equal Opportunity Fund.

  • 1970s

    1970

    WELCOME ABOARD RUSSELL EWALD

    Surprising but true: For the first 55 years of our existence, the Foundation had no full-time staff! We hired our first full-time executive director, Russell Ewald, in 1970—the same year we opened an office at the Chamber of Commerce building in Minneapolis.

    1971

    BUILDING MORE THAN JUST A MUSEUM

    Mention the Walker Art Center, and many Minnesotans immediately think of the iconic sculpture Spoonbridge and Cherry. Since the museum opened in 1927, the Walker has received support from many Foundation donors. Some, for example, helped fund construction of the renowned building designed by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, which opened in 1971.

    1973

    TACKLING SEGREGATION IN THE CLASSROOM

    The Foundation granted $130,000 to the Minneapolis school board to help the school district roll out an innovative pilot program to facilitate desegregation at Bryant, Anthony and Ramsey junior high schools. At the time, it was the largest grant in the Foundation’s history.

    1974

    REVITALIZING THE PHILLIPS NEIGHBORHOOD

    Project for Pride in Living has been working with The Foundation since the early 70’s to revitalize the Phillips neighborhood. In 1974, the Foundation supported the development of a renovation program for the Phillips neighborhood and, in 1979, partially funded the initial costs of developing a Section 8 rental housing project for low- and moderate-income families.

    1975

    KIDS DESERVE THEATER TOO

    In 1975, The Minneapolis Foundation granted $15,000 to help the Children’s Theatre Company and School meet operational needs during its initial period as an independent organization. (Previously, it had been connected to the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts.) The Children’s Theatre, which is approaching its 50th anniversary, woos young audiences from across the state with such unforgettable productions as Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The theater makes performances accessible to all children through free and subsidized tickets, and nurtures a love of theater in young children through its early education programming.

    1978

    HOLLYWOOD HISTORY LESSONS

    The Foundation made a grant to the Jewish Community Relations Council to print and distribute a discussion guide to a television program called The Holocaust, which ran in April 1978.

  • 1980s

    1980

    NONPROFIT ASSISTANCE FUND LAUNCHES

    As anyone who does it can tell you, running a small nonprofit is hard work! The Nonprofits Assistance Fund strengthens our community by supporting nonprofits with loans, training, practical guidance and financial management resources. Originally started as a program of the Minneapolis Foundation in 1980, the Nonprofits Assistance Fund is now an independent organization that recently celebrated $150 million in cumulative lending to nonprofits. Those 2,500-plus loans have helped pay for everything from new windows at a mental health counseling center in Bemidji to a cash-flow loan for a homeless shelter in Grand Rapids.

    1981

    HITTING ALL THE RIGHT NOTES

    The MacPhail Center for Music has been making beautiful music for over 100 years. In 1981, the Foundation hit all the right notes by covering costs for a new music performance program for Minneapolis adults.

    1982

    FIGHTING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

    Founded by Latina activists in St. Paul, Casa de Esperanza has fought to end domestic violence since 1982. In addition to running a crisis line and many other projects, the nonprofit produced My Girlfriend Did It, a groundbreaking documentary on interpersonal violence in lesbian relationships. The Foundation funded a screening of that film in 2008 – just one of the ways we’ve stood with Casa de Esperanza over the years.

    1983

    THE POWER OF WOMEN

    A desire to remove barriers for women and girls led to the creation of the Women’s Fund at the Minneapolis Foundation. The Fund eventually grew into a separate organization, The Women’s Foundation, which is now the oldest statewide women’s foundation in the nation.

    1985

    ENDING TORTURE WORLDWIDE

    There are more than 30,000 torture survivors in Minnesota. The Center for Victims of Torture has supported many of them at a Healing Center in St. Paul. But since its founding in 1985, the nonprofit has also grown into an international organization with global impact in advocacy, training and research. Through support of the Center, the Foundation and our donors are working to advance human rights and end torture worldwide.

    1988

    CONSTRUCTING THE WHITNEY BRIDGE

    The Whitney Bridge spans some of the busiest traffic in the city and is a local landmark, connecting Loring Park with the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. A 1988 grant from the Hixon Whitney Family Fund at the Foundation helped fund its construction.

    1989

    OPEN YOUR MIND, NOT YOUR WALLET

    The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, one of the Minneapolis Foundation’s earliest grantees, was created in 1915 by the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts.

    In September 1989, museum director Evan Maurer announced that the museum would no longer charge a general admission fee. This new policy was evidence of the museum’s strong desire to make art more accessible to the general public and to eliminate barriers that might prevent full accessibility to the museum’s magnificent collection.

  • 1990s

    1993

    FAST TRACK TO A LIVING WAGE

    Founded by former General Mills executive Steve Rothschild, Twin Cities RISE! offers classes, one-on-one coaching, personal empowerment and internship opportunities to train low-income adults – mostly men of color – for skilled jobs that pay a living wage. Since 1993, the Minneapolis Foundation and our donors have given more than $2.7 million to help Twin Cities RISE! fight poverty through work skills training.

    1994

    WELCOMING OUR NEW NEIGHBORS

    How’s this for Minnesota Nice? For twenty years, the Confederation of Somali Community has been helping immigrants build new lives in Minnesota. By connecting families with resources to help them apply for jobs, enroll in schools and navigate the health care system, the Confederation paves the way for them to become self-sufficient members of our community. Supporting the Confederation is one way the Foundation has extended a warm welcome to new neighbors.

    1995

    OSCAR HOWARD'S LEGACY

    Oscar Howard, founder of Meals on Wheels, started a fund to provide educational scholarships for local youth, continuing his legacy to improving lives.

    1996

    A FRESH LOOK AT INNER-CITY NEIGHBORHOODS

    Say cheese! For a photo exhibit called Self Images: A Fresh Look at Inner City Neighborhoods, residents of Minneapolis’ poorest neighborhoods were given cameras and asked to take pictures of what they thought was important where they lived. Their photos—of churches, community centers, quiet houses and kids playing—were displayed in the First Bank Lobby of the Guthrie Theater. The exhibit was just one piece of the Foundation’s Building Better Futures project—a ten-year, $20 million investment to reduce poverty, build capacity and improve the quality of life in the Elliot Park, Harrison, Near North, Phillips, Stevens Square-Loring Heights, Sumner-Glenwood and Whittier neighborhoods.

    1998

    STARTING A FOUNDATION FOR CHILDREN

    In 1998, the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi seized a huge opportunity to give back to the community. Robins, Kaplan represented the State of Minnesota in a historic lawsuit to hold the tobacco industry responsible for smoking-related illnesses. After a 15-week trial, the case settled with the tobacco defendants agreeing to pay the state more than $6 billion. Using fees earned in that case, Robins, Kaplan came to the Minneapolis Foundation with a $30 million gift that was used to start theRobins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children, which supports Minnesota schools, education initiatives and youth-focused nonprofits.

    1999

    REDEFINING "AFFORDABLE" HOUSING

    The Foundation gave a special $250,000 grant to a collaborative of more than 70 organizations led by the Minnesota Housing Partnership and Tunheim, a public relations firm, to carry out Housing Minnesota, a statewide advertising campaign to change perceptions about affordable housing.

  • 2000s

    2001

    EMERGENCY RESPONSE: 9/11

    After the September 11 terror attacks, community foundations across the country immediately went to work to fund relief efforts for the families of the victims. Within days, Minneapolis Foundation donors and other community members responded generously to the appeal for aid. Foundation donors directed more than half a million dollars to relief efforts through the September 11th Fund, which was established by the New York Community Trust—a fellow community foundation—and the New York United Way.

    2002

    THINK TWICE

    Tensions rose in 2002 as Minnesota lawmakers grappled over how to close a state budget gap of $1.95 billion. In late November, the governor’s budget director announced that all grants to nonprofit organizations would be frozen pending legislative action to address the shortfall. Recognizing the need for immediate action, the Minneapolis Foundation funded Think Twice, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ first advertising campaign, to urge citizens to contact their elected officials during the legislative session and voice their support for the work of nonprofits in their community.

    2006

    AN EXPLORATION OF RACE

    The Minneapolis Foundation underwrote a free day at the Science Museum of Minnesota for patrons to view RACE, a national exhibition that tells the stories of race from biological, cultural, and historical points of view. RACE was a winner of the Excellence in Exhibition Competition at the 2008 meeting of the American Association of Museums.

    2007

    EMERGENCY RESPONSE: 35W BRIDGE

    At 6 p.m. on August 1, commuters were driving home and workers were laying a new surface of concrete on the Interstate 35W bridge in downtown Minneapolis. Then the bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring hundreds.

    The next day, then-Mayor R.T. Rybak contacted the Minneapolis Foundation, asking the Foundation to take the lead on setting up a fund that would provide an efficient way to pool contributions from the public to aid survivors and the families of those who died. The Minnesota Helps – Bridge Disaster Fund was set up on August 3, and contributions began to pour in.

    The Fund collected contributions totaling more than $1.2 million from individuals, businesses, foundations and hundreds of other organizations across the state and around the country who were moved to act in the wake of the bridge disaster. One hundred percent of the funds collected were distributed to aid survivors of the I-35W bridge collapse, as well as those who lost loved ones in the disaster.

    2008

    "CLOSE THE GAP"

    A six-part documentary on the region’s growing economic and social disparities, Close The Gap was broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television with support from the Foundation.

    2009

    MINNESOTANS GIVE TO THE MAX

    Funded in part by the Foundation, Give to the Max Day was created by GiveMN to inspire giving to nonprofit organizations across the state by engaging as many donors as possible in one day. These charities reflect the diverse needs of communities across Minnesota, such as hunger, autism awareness, animal welfare and wilderness protection. The first Give to the Max Day in 2009 raised $14 million for 3,434 Minnesota nonprofits. In 2014, Minnesotans set a new record, making 119,000 individual donations in one day for a total or more than $18 million.

  • 2010s

    2010

    THE NEW WAVE OF PHILANTHROPY

    The Minneapolis Foundation launched Fourth Generation, a program fostering the next wave of charitable givers in the Twin Cities. Members of Fourth Generation work together every year to learn about a critical issue, identify promising efforts to address it and pool their resources to make a much bigger difference in the community than they could on their own. Fourth Generation’s first year culminated in grants to two groups that focus on youth homelessness: Face to Face and Pillsbury United Communities’ Full Cycle Program.

    2011

    MINNESOTA CAN PROVIDE GREAT PUBLIC EDUCATION

    Funded in part by the Minneapolis Foundation, the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now (MinnCAN) works to enact public policies that will ensure that every Minnesota child has access to a great public school. MinnCAN’s focus areas include increasing access to great pre-kindergarten programs, expanding high-quality school options, elevating great teaching and meeting individual student needs. Through research, community mobilization and advocacy, MinnCAN is working to improve education outcomes, especially for students of color and low-income students.

    2013

    RESET EDUCATION CAMPAIGN TO CLOSE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP

    In 2013, with the support of a host of community sponsors, the Minneapolis Foundation launched a major public awareness campaign called RESET Education. The campaign was aimed at business and civic leaders, educational professionals, parents and the community at large. RESET was designed to bring awareness to the urgent needs to close the educational achievement gap in Minnesota and shine light on five strategies that promote creating K-12 schools where every child can succeed. The campaign included three major Minnesota Meeting events that featured national education experts and passionate celebrities like John Legend.

    2014

    PARTNERSHIP FOR A GREENER FUTURE

    The Minneapolis Foundation entered into a strategic partnership with RE-AMP, a network of 160 nonprofits and foundations across eight Midwestern states. Members of the network are working together on issues related to climate change and energy policy, with the goal of reducing global warming pollution economy-wide by 80 percent by 2050.

    2015

    CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF INNOVATIVE COMMUNITY BUILDING

    To celebrate 100 years of service and commitment to the Minneapolis community, the Minneapolis Foundation hosted the Face Forward Futurist Conference on Sept. 18 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The conference drew more than 1,500 Twin Cities leaders and residents to learn about innovative approaches to some of the community’s biggest challenges and opportunities. Keynote speakers included physician Atul Gawande, physicist Michio Kaku, charity innovator Dan Pallotta, and longevity expert Dan Buettner. MPR host Kerri Miller served as the conference moderator, leading the day’s robust discussions. In addition, an array of local leaders shared their visions for the future during breakout sessions on community issues such as education, civic engagement, the arts, and economic vitality.

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