FOREST CITY | Since its founding in 1970, the Hanson Foundation has awarded over $52 million to organizations in more than 100 communities–the vast majority in north central Iowa. Of that total, more than $31 million has been awarded to 93 organizations in its home community of Forest City. The organization surpassed the $50 million mark this summer, a milestone that attests to its standing as one of the top philanthropic foundations in the state of Iowa.
The Hanson Family Foundation, established as the John K. and Luise V. Hanson Foundation, is administered by the second generation of the Hanson family: Mary Jo (Hanson) Boman, John V. Hanson and Paul D. Hanson. They maintain homes and an active presence in the communities of Forest City and Clear Lake while enjoying retirement in warmer climates.
“My parents understood that by setting up a foundation, we would have a structure with parameters for giving,” Boman said, “one that could make a positive impact in the communities that Winnebago employees called home and the surrounding areas.”
Boman pointed to the foundation’s capacity to serve as a philanthropic partner as did her brother, John V. Hanson. They share pride in the organization’s ability to establish effective, long-term local partnerships.
“We [the Hanson Foundation] are typically a partner in a project and not the sole funding source,” said Hanson. “We make projects possible that result in a shared sense of ownership. People come to us knowing that our assistance helps ensure success while strengthening the outcome,” Boman said.
Foundation recipients represent diverse interests and their supported projects reach a wide number of families. As a result, the Hanson Foundation has a broad impact within communities. Grants typically align inside three primary areas: arts and culture, family recreation, and youth development and education. From its earliest days, the foundation has been particularly supportive of projects with the capacity of making a positive and broad impact.
Forest city resident Paula Wilson reflected on how the Hanson Foundation’s support of local organizations has had a direct effect on her and her family.
She and her husband, Paul, have five children: Amanda, 21, Jacob, 18, Melissa, 15, Peter, 9, and Isaac, 6.
“The foundation’s support of Waldorf’s Artist Series, scholarships and other ways Waldorf brings international performers and students to Forest City has given our family opportunities to explore and discover different cultures that small towns typically don’t have,” Wilson said. “The Hanson Foundation has made it possible for us to enjoy the best of both worlds: big city experiences with small-town family life.”
Rick Skjeie, also of Forest City, also reflected on the foundation’s contributions, specifically in Forest City.
“The Y is in an excellent location for the after school program. Our children simply walked over after school and had a place to exercise, study, and snack until I picked them up,” Skjeie said. “We are grateful they have a safe place to fit in their goal of at least 60 minutes of play a day while we finish work. We wouldn’t have the Y without the Hanson’s generosity.
“I’ve always said that if you can’t find something to do at night in Forest City, or on the weekends, you aren’t looking very hard. Not everything will be up your alley, but there certainly is something to go to or see at the high school or Waldorf or an event in town. You don’t have to look far for life in Forest City to be entertaining. The foundation’s support of organizations keeps those opportunities alive.”
Rick and his wife, Shelly, have four children, Payton, 18, Audrey, 16, Blake, 15 and Carter, 12.
“In the beginning, there was the family with me who they asked to assist–sitting around the bank’s board room table with a stack of grant requests,” said Linda Kay, the foundation’s key administrative officer. “The foundation steadily grew, from responding to requests once a year to the quarterly cycle we do now.”
Kay saw the amount of grants grow substantially in the mid-90s as the family’s second generation became the primary guiding benefactors and the foundation’s assets reached a level able to sustain gifts in larger amounts.
“The family–each one of them–has a heart for giving and has set an example for me. I contribute more to places because I’ve seen them do it,” said Kay, who values her foundation role. “I’ve never felt this was a job. Not in a traditional sense. Each quarter as requests come in, I am amazed by what has been accomplished,” she said.
Hanson family members continue to model leadership in giving and share Kay’s sense of awe at the scope of the foundation’s long-term impact. From individual Eagle Scout projects executed by volunteers to multi-million dollar construction projects, the foundation excels at collaborative partnerships. Recent examples are the athletic complexes in Forest City–two shared facilities that benefit the school district and Waldorf University while serving as pre-season training locations for the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps of Lacrosse, Wisconsin. However the YMCA, the foundation’s first collaborative endeavor, remains a stand-out endeavor.
“Looking back, I think one of the projects that shines as having a large community impact is the YMCA in Forest City–how it’s tied to the Waldorf facilities,” Boman said. “Without it, there wouldn’t be a place for people of all ages to come together for a variety of activities for health and wellness. And it’s been filling that role now for generations.”
The foundation, with total assets in excess of $60 million, is poised for a philanthropic future as strong as its past. Its healthy financial standing ensures grants will remain ongoing for generations to come. In addition, the third generation has become actively involved in the foundation’s decision-making processes.
“As the next generation becomes involved in guiding the foundation, my hope is that it remains centered and focused on the communities of north central Iowa, to serve them first,” said Boman, reflecting on her parents’ commitment to the families of the employees who made Winnebago Industries an industry leader. “My parents–our family–acknowledged they didn’t do it alone. The Hanson Foundation wouldn’t exist had it not been for Winnebago. Giving from the foundation is our way of giving back.”
Boman and Hanson acknowledge the foundation’s historical ties to Winnebago Industries. Today, connections established through MBT Bank also help the foundation maintain strong ties to north Iowa communities and Rochester, Minnesota.
“The next generation seems to have a good feel for the foundation’s role as a philanthropic partner,” said Hanson. “My hope is they continue the path we’ve been on.”