Foundation shares its wealth as founding chair steps down

Foundation board members and supporters hold up their Bill-on-a-stick for a toast to outgoing chairman Bill Foussard. 

WHITE BEAR LAKE — A mission to inspire philanthropy and enrich lives of those who share the lake’s shores continued in 2020 with the Greater White Bear Lake Community Foundation’s (GWBLCF) announcement of grant recipients. 

The foundation’s outgoing chair, “Mr. White Bear,” was also feted and the incoming chair introduced at its Dec. 17 “Holly Jolly” virtual meeting. 

Normally, the annual December grants announcement is made at the White Bear Country Inn. The pandemic changed the venue to Zoom, and more than 80 people attended to celebrate the awards and toast Bill Foussard, who is stepping down as founding chairman. 

Vice Chair Carol McFarlane, who has headed the Community Partners Fund since the start, will take over the reins from Foussard. She offered a glimpse of the foundation’s work, which this year, “a year like no other,” she said, raised $50,000 for the partners fund and $76,000 for community recovery — a new fund to offset the impact of COVID-19. 

“It was my honor to lead the grants committee again this year,” noted McFarlane, a White Bear native and former legislator. “In addition to our program and project grants this year, we widened our reach to allow organizations impacted by the pandemic to apply for operating grants. There were 11 that received $23,500 (for programs and projects) and 10 received operating expense grants totaling $27,250.” A list of recipients is provided in the sidebar. 

Since its inception in 2015, the GWBLCF has raised $5 million in donations with $3.4 million in assets under management. The Community Partners Fund and Community Recovery Fund has granted $200,000 during that time frame. 

Two new funds were recently launched, according to McFarlane: a donor-advised fund to preserve a historic landmark in the community and a “field of interest” fund to support local businesses.

White Bear Area Historical Society Executive Director Sara Markoe Hanson gave a plug for the foundation, an “incredibly local” organization that has impacted the nonprofit. 

The society was first to establish an endowment fund “to ensure our future,” Hanson said, noting that the foundation made that effort more attainable. 

The society has also been a “proud recipient” of foundation grants to replace windows at the Fillebrown House, add historical markers at the old Town Hall and rehouse archives. 

“We believe strongly in the foundation’s mission,” Hanson asserted. “It truly wouldn’t be here without the passion and vision of Bill Foussard. His enthusiasm and belief that we all do better when we all do better is unparalleled.”

In a toast to Foussard, Zoom participants raised their Bill on a Stick (obtained by mail prior to the event) and filled the “chat room” with accolades. Foussard, a business owner (the White Bear Country Inn and Rudy’s Redeye Grill) who typically downplays his role in the community, said it takes a talented team to accomplish lofty goals. And speaking of goals, the outgoing chair set a new foundation target of $10 million in assets. 

Foussard firmly believes that is attainable, retelling a story of how he got the idea for a White Bear foundation back in 1985. He was talking to business leaders seated at a table in his St. Cloud hotel restaurant. They told him they were starting a community foundation. Today, 35 years later, that foundation is worth $125 million.   

Those who said a few public words about Foussard during the toast had similar themes: his commitment to the area and his boundless energy. Rotarians Nancy Oakes and Kevin Donovan said, respectively, their friend was an “icon of White Bear Lake, next to the big bear,” and “if there is good happening in our community, Bill isn’t far away.” 

McFarlane called Foussard a “visionary and cheerleader for the area. I don’t know what we’d do without him,” she said, quickly adding that he will remain on the board of directors. 

For their kind sentiments, the St. Paul guy admitted he loves White Bear. “It’s such a cool town,” Foussard said. “Thanks for letting me be part of it.” 

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