Kevin Paulsen remembers sitting down at one of the first meetings to organize what would become the Pipestone Area Community Foundation: “It was just a group of local citizens who were looking for a way to help those who wanted to give back to the community.”
It was 1999, and these citizens were focused on the new Pipestone Area Schools building. It had taken three attempts to pass the local school bonding bill, and amenities for the building were scaled back to lower the cost. Kevin and the rest of the founding board of Pipestone Area Educational Enrichment Foundation – its original name – raised money to make sure local students would still get a top-notch learning environment.
“As a result of timing and bidding, they were able to put a lot of those amenities into the building, so a lot of funds we raised ended up going to purchasing supplies for the new school such as choir robes, whiteboards, band instruments and art supplies,” said Kevin, who was on the Pipestone Area Community Foundation (PACF) advisory board for 15 years, is a lifelong community member and serves as Community Bank President at First Bank and Trust in Pipestone.
Diana Anderson was Southwest Initiative Foundation’s (SWIF) Director of Fund Development in 1999 and guided PACF’s founding volunteers in strategic planning as part of SWIF’s pilot community foundation program. Diana is now the President and CEO at SWIF.
“Diana played a major role in helping us decide what we wanted to do and what we wanted to accomplish,” Kevin said. “She helped us go through the transition from an education foundation to a community foundation. Later, we worked with Liz Cheney at the foundation, and she helped us refocus when we were seeming to stall out.”
Listening has been as important as offering guidance over the years in supporting new and longstanding community foundations in the region.
“A best practice is for our work to be community led. That requires deep listening. It’s reciprocal, our relationship with the local community foundations. We get the best sense of what’s happening in communities. They get the best ideas they can customize and make unique to their communities,” Diana said.
After the new school was built and outfitted, PACF kept its focus on education and started fundraising for scholarships, planning to raise enough money to offer a scholarship to every Pipestone senior pursuing higher education. But there wasn’t as much student participation as they’d hoped. When the local Dollars For Scholars chapter received two substantial estate gifts, the foundation granted its remaining scholarship funds to the chapter and focused on major projects to benefit the community.
One of those projects was revitalizing Harmon Park, the crown jewel of Pipestone’s city parks. Located at the intersection of three highways, it’s the largest park in town and home to the Family Aquatic Center; courts for tennis, basketball and volleyball; picnic shelters; and a softball diamond. It was in disrepair when PACF started fundraising and granted more than $226,000 to bring it back to life as a gathering place for recreation to be enjoyed by residents and visitors. Harmon Park was rededicated by the City of Pipestone at the 2012 Watertower Festival.
PACF also raised $415,000 to build a modern event center called Hiawatha Lodge that opened in 2016. And in 2019, the foundation helped Pipestone Area Softball and Baseball Association raise funds for a new concession stand and accessible restrooms in Westview Park, near the home of the local baseball team, the Pipestone A’s. The project benefits athletes of all ages, their families and the entire community.
Current advisory board members are carrying on the 20-year tradition of helping community.
“I think a lot of the things we do are really economic development,” said current board member Ian Cunningham. “If you come to Pipestone for a ball game and the bathrooms are terrible, you’re probably not going to want to come back.”
PACF board member Jody Wacker moved to Pipestone 15 years ago with her family and is the director at Meinders Community Library in town. She’s interested in ways the community foundation can expand the options for kids in Pipestone, especially middle schoolers, and opportunities to offer “something for everybody” in town.
“Your community is what you make it,” Jody said.
And PACF is making Pipestone an even better place to live. Over 20 years, the local community foundation has awarded $667,002 in grants.
Linda Erickson — whose reason for joining the PACF board was “just a passion for Pipestone” — knows how important grants are, even the ones that seem small.
“When we’d volunteer to help with lunch at senior dining, the ladies would show us where to put a pan to catch the drips from the dishwasher,” said Linda, who encouraged them to apply for a grant to improve their services. Now the group has a new dishwasher and refrigerator to better serve seniors.
Recent PACF grants include pool passes and swimming lessons for low-income families, Code Club computer programming at the library, new computers for the local historical society and holiday lights downtown.
Looking to the future, board member Marci Mahik would like to see something like a gym and activity center that’s free for local teenagers. Board chair Blake Klinsing envisions investing in maintenance over time, so the community won’t have as much need for major overhauls.
“The community has a history of supporting projects and organizations not only monetarily but also with volunteers. It’s a truly engaged community,” said Kevin. “People were always saying, ‘What’s next?’”
Whatever comes next, the local community foundation can help pursue those dreams.
Pipestone is one of four pilot communities of Southwest Initiative Foundation’s local community foundation program, celebrating 20 years in 2019. Read more about the history of the local community foundation program.