Slemons Foundation Spends Down

More Than $4.5 million Grants into Kent County

The Slemons Foundation, created in 1965 through the estate of Elmer J. Slemons is officially out of business. On purpose. Slemons, who died that same year at the age of 89, was a former Grand Rapids Press manager and Booth Newspaper director. The private foundation operated for nearly 50 years and in the last two decades it was closely affiliated with Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “The Community Foundation served as its grantmaking advisor. We vetted grant applications and made recommendations to the trustees,” said Kate Luckert Schmid, program director at the Community Foundation. “We also arranged for site visits to area nonprofits, the trustees appreciated the insider view and being able see the grants in action,” said Luckert Schmid.

The Slemons Foundation’s mission was to make grants that lead to employment and self-sufficiency for vulnerable population groups; help with emergency human service needs; build relationships between social service organizations and their clients; help with access to recreation, the environment and the arts for vulnerable populations and it funded projects that encouraged collaboration among service providers.  In all it made more than $4 million in grants.

Among the grantees that Slemons supported were Gilda’s Club (over $320,000) especially its youth programs including Noogieland and its children’s grief program. Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities ($165,000), Childrens Assessment Center and Steepletown Neighborhood Services were also major grantees. It made annual grants over many decades to several well-known Grand Rapids nonprofits including Porter Hills, United Way, Clark Retirement Home, Mayflower Congregational Church, American Red Cross, American Cancer Society and The Salvation Army. It also provided some start up funds for The Rapidian, a nod to Slemons newspaper roots. “Part of our role was to bring projects to their attention that they were not aware of, but were a fantastic fit for their philanthropic goals,” said Luckert Schmid.

Per Slemons’ estate documents three people were to serve as trustees. John Bergstrom served for 12 years as the community representative on the foundation’s board. “Mr. Slemons stipulated that there be a community trustee, as well as a representative from (then) Michigan National Bank (now Bank of America) and a representative from Mayflower Congregational Church. It was a thrill to grant the money according to Mr. Slemons’ will and to see the impact in the community. His wish was to mainly help serve people, especially younger generations,” said Bergstrom. “There is some sadness to see the ability to make a difference in the community to come to an end, but it has been a great experience.”  Slemons’ estate documents stipulated that the fund be spent down by the year 2020, but the end came sooner when trustees opted to make several large grants to organizations to close the foundation, rather than continue with smaller grant amounts.