Over the last handful of years, one thing is abundantly clear and obvious: Owatonna is growing — and it’s not going to stop.
In an effort to support the growth of a vibrant community, however, a sturdy foundation has to be laid and maintained. A little more than six decades ago, a specific group of people came together and decided they wanted to ensure that the Owatonna they love remains intact for generations to come. Thus began the Owatonna Foundation, officially incorporated in 1958. According to information provided by the Foundation, since its inception, the Foundation has granted close to $13 million in support of capital campaign grants in the Owatonna community. This is done through philanthropic intent and commitment by individuals, businesses and organizations who believe in investing in ideas, visions and, most importantly, people. The capital grants are hyper-focused on areas of arts, education, community and recreation. Fast forward to six months ago, the Foundation has seen two major changes in the people leading the charge. Laura Resler retired as the executive director after seven years as the Foundation’s only paid staff member, and longtime Foundation Board President Denny Meillier stepped down. Paving the path now is Angela Gonzales, executive coordinator, and Tom Dufresne, the new Foundation Board president. Though they are new at taking the lead at the Foundation, the duo are feeling confident about what they have accomplished in the six short months since they each stepped into their new roles.
“We had gone through an entire strategic process prior to Angela stepping in, and we’ve really continued on that as we expand our visibility,” Dufresne said. “We now have a better online and social media presence that helps us get to a broader demographic — we want to reach the parents of the kids playing in the soccer fields we helped sponsor.”
Gonzales said her time at the Foundation has been nothing short of busy, learning about the 450 donors and working alongside the 24 current trustees. With a master’s in nonprofit administration, Gonzales said she has been enjoying the community engagement side of this work more than anything else. “We have a lot of experiences and talented, philanthropic volunteers,” Gonzales said. “I love talking about the Foundation, it’s really a proud moment for me every time I can.”
While the Foundation has deep roots in the Owatonna community, both Gonzales and Dufresne recognize the urgent need to evolve with the ever-changing times around them. Some of it has been simple adjustments, such as Gonzales starting a memorial page on the Foundation website, while other pieces have continued to take shape as they move forward. “The reality is we have a whole new generation of donors, and it’s just different now,” Dufresne said. “We have to find new ways to reach out to people, like the mom and pop shops who may be donating smaller amounts. It takes trust, but we all have pride in the work the Foundation does.” In 2021, more than 450 individuals, organizations and businesses supporting the Foundation with gifts totaling more than $1 million. These gifts were able to support projects such as the restoration of the iconic Central Park Fountain, restoring the storm windows at the Dunnell House located in the Steele County Historical Society’s Village of Yesteryear, and providing funds for the Owatonna Fire Department’s paratech rescue system, to name only a few.
“I am especially excited about the project we’re helping with at the new high school,” Dufresne said. “We are co-sponsoring a community room that will be located right in the entryway and will be available for community use … We have a lot of important projects in the pipeline, but this one is especially important for the entire community.”
Moving forward At this time, all capital grants are done by a request-based system. The Foundation Trustees comb through the requests to see where they can best help, sometimes guiding the applicants to request larger sums based on the project they are looking to complete.
Because the Foundation would ideally be able to support each request funneled their way, Dufresne said it was a catalyst for the “3 in 3 by 2023” campaign, which officially launched in 2020. The goal is to help the Foundation reach $10 million in assets by growing the fund by $1 million in donations each year. Despite the pressures of a pandemic, Dufresne said the Owatonna community continues to show up to support its future.
“We are actually ahead of the game a little as far as being on track,” Dufresne said. “This will enable us to set up an endowment to provide $450,000 in grants a year and be able to look ahead at everything going on in Owatonna, because there is a lot going on and as Owatonna is growing, our requests are growing.” At the end of the day, however, Dufresne reiterated the number one goal of the Foundation has remained the same since the very first meeting more than 60 years ago.
“This is about improving the quality of life in our community for generations to come,” Dufresne said. “This started out as the obvious movers and shakers in Owatonna, but clearly now that is not the case. We are more diverse, and we plan on continuing to represent and support that.” Reach Associate Editor Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @AnnieGranlund. ©Copyright 2022 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.