Keweenaw Community Foundation celebrates 20th anniversary

HOUGHTON – The Keweenaw Community Foundation looked both back and forward at a dinner celebrating its 20th anniversary Wednesday night.

The KCF held its Keweenaw Gold dinner at the Continental Fire Co. in Houghton.

Jim Bogan, Portage Health president and CEO, gave a presentation on the history of the organization. Since 1994, the KCF has grown to include 70 funds carrying more than $6.8 million.

“It took a lot of volunteers and a lot of board members to make this happen over 20 years, and it didn’t happen without people directing this program day in and day out,” he said.

With a handful of devoted founders, the KCF weathered lean early years. The board joined up with the U.P. Community Foundation Alliance in 1996 before becoming independent again the next year.

The organization was helped by a number of high-profile donations, including a 1997 $30,000 grant from the Charles Mott Foundation and the Great Lakes Protection Fund of Chicago.

The Kellogg Foundation promised a $500,000 match once the KCF raised $1 million. It hit that milestone in December 1998; The Portage Health Foundation made a $300,000 donation to help reach that goal, and $200,000 in pledges over a five year period.

True to its word, the Kellogg Foundation gave a $500,000 endowment in 1999, which was used to create the Youth Advisory Council. The YAC, which works on projects benefitting children in the local area, now has 20 members in sixth through 12th grades. The YAC’s Bully Backfire game won a state award last year.

The KCF has also developed popular annual events. The first Pure Gold dinner was held in 2007. And this year will be the fifth for the Keweenaw Brewfest, which has raised more than $50,000 for the KCF.

The KCF also used the evening to promote its Paving the Way project. Some of the money raised by the drive will go towards replacing the aging wooden walkway at the Ray Kestner Waterfront Park with a new brick path.

The bricks, available in three sizes corresponding to the amount of the gift, will also bear the donors’ names. Steph Olsson, who encouraged the crowd to donate, imagined a scenario where he was heading to the park on a warm August day with his wife and daughters.

“I want my kids to see their name on that walk, and that’s going to be a very special time,” he said.

For the third year in a row, Joe Kirkish won the Herman “Winks” Gundlach Award which is given out each year for the largest donation to the KCF.

Brick Awards were given out to Mike Rose, organizer of the Keweenaw Brewfest; Stefany Cook, a Brewfest volunteer; and Anne Clancy-Klemme, director of Camp 911.

The James LaBelle Trust was also recognized for donating $400,000 to the KCF endowment funds for Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly and Omega House.

For more information on the KCF, go to