Nancy Marchell (center) successfully bids on "Bad Shaker," crafted and designed by local metalsmith and designer David Badman of Badman Designs, at Thursday's 20th anniversary of the Grand Forks Community Foundation celebration at the Alerus Center. Left of Marchell is Kristin Shea and Tom Campbell is on her right. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
By Bonnie Meibers
Published in the Grand Forks Herald on Nov. 16, 2018
Members of the Grand Forks community reflected on how far the region has come since the Flood of 1997.
The Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region Community Foundation celebrated 20 years with a dinner Thursday evening.
The dinner consisted of three courses. During each course, there was a live performance from an area music group, a reflection from a community member and then an opportunity for those attending to participate in giving with the Community Foundation.
The Grand Cities Children's Choir, Crescendo Chamber Music Ensemble and the Red River Velvetones performed throughout the night.
Mark Hall, one of the founding members of the Community Foundation, spoke about how the foundation was a thought in a few community members' heads before the flood.
"Of course when the flood came, everyone else had other things on their mind so we didn't talk about the foundation for a while," Hall said. "Everything was put on hold."
Then, when Joan Kroc—or "the Angel," as many in the community came to call the philanthropist and wife of longtime McDonald's CEO Ray Kroc—wanted to donate money to help the city of Grand Forks, she first sought to donate via a community foundation but found that Grand Forks didn't have one and donated through a different avenue.
Hall said a concern arose there wouldn't be more donations because there was no credible vehicle for them in the area.
The Community Foundation was born from that need.
"And our conversations years ago are now worth $10.5 million," Hall said.
The Community Foundation now has over $10 million in assets and has granted nearly $5.5 million to various causes in the region.
Former Herald publisher Mike Maidenberg also was "in on the ground floor" of the foundation.
Maidenberg said he is very impressed with what the Community Foundation has accomplished in 20 years.
"The foundation brings different generations together. This is not an organization in the closet, they're out in the community getting people's creative juices going," Maidenberg said.
Blue Weber, executive director of the Downtown Development Association, spoke at the dinner about community engagement.
Weber's three steps to community engagement were to think outside the box, to have fun and to be honest with the community.
"We need to have those difficult conversations in the community, it allows for more trust," Weber said. "Creating an engaged community is the best way to attract people to a place."
Organizers of the dinner engaged with attendees during a live auction and by asking them to vote via text message on an organization to receive a $500 grant. The audience chose the Summer Performing Arts Company.
The organization, which came about as part of rebuilding the community after the flood, invited Kathy Gershman to speak about restoring the Empire Arts Center.
That renovation hit a few snags, one of which was the 1997 flood.
After finally securing funding from community members to save the theater, the flood came, ruining new electric and wiring in the building and filling the newly dug out basement.
"The floodwaters receded, and we, like many others, were left with a big, cold, muddy mess," Gershman said.
The community continued to give, even though many had personally been hit by disaster upon disaster. Every donor but one honored their pledges to save the Empire. Contractors lowered their prices, and one forgave a debt in order to get the theater renovated.
"Many projects are pulled across the finish line by persistence," Gershman said, giving advice based on her experience with the Empire for people working in nonprofits.
Executive director of the Community Foundation, Becca Bahnmiller, thanked the community for being so generous in their time and donations throughout the years.
"Imagine where we will be in the next 20 years," Bahnmiller said.
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