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Our History

signal tree
Located in Cascade Valley Metro Park, the Signal Tree once served as a guidepost for Native Americans traveling the Cuyahoga River. Today, it embodies the community foundation’s deep roots in Greater Akron and the permanent philanthropy of our endowment fundholders.

In 1955, Edwin Shaw’s bequest of $1,033,533 established Akron Community Trusts, now Akron Community Foundation, a place where charitable people from all walks of life join together to improve their community forever.

According to Shaw’s will, the community foundation would "meet the changes in the community needs brought about by the passage of time and the variance in circumstances." This included grants for the health, educational, cultural and welfare needs primarily, but not exclusively, of Summit County, Ohio.

The 1950s

Edwin C. Shaw
Edwin C. Shaw

May 21, 1955

Papers of incorporation establish Akron Community Trusts with the estate of former B.F. Goodrich Vice President Edwin Shaw. Shaw’s goal was to create a way for residents to help meet the changing needs of the Greater Akron community.

June 8, 1955 – total assets $1.04 million

Founding trustees gathered for the first board meeting at Shaw’s former residence on North Portage Path. Those trustees were:

  • John L. Collyer, board chairman of B.F. Goodrich Co.
  • Bert A. Polsky, board chairman of Polsky’s department store
  • J.P. Seiberling, president and board chairman of Seiberling Rubber Co.
  • Harvey S. Firestone Jr., chairman of Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.
  • Paul A. Frank, president of National Rubber Machinery Co.
  • John S. Knight, president and editor of the Akron Beacon Journal and publisher of Knight Newspapers Inc.
  • P.W. Litchfield, board chairman of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
  • W.B. McIntosh, executive director of the C.W. Seiberling Memorial Foundation
  • William O’Neil, president of General Tire & Rubber Co.

The community foundation receives an initial $776,552 from Shaw’s estate. George Oenslager and Frank Van Cleef, co-executors of Shaw’s estate, join John L. Collyer, Paul A. Frank, P.W. Litchfield, W.B. McIntosh, William O’Neil, Bert A. Polsky and Lisle M. Buckingham around the dining room table at Shaw’s former estate at 618 N. Portage Path. There, they conduct an organizational meeting of Akron Community Trusts. The following officers were elected: W.B. McIntosh as executive director and treasurer; Bert A. Polsky as president; Paul A. Frank as vice president; and Lisle M. Buckingham as legal counsel and secretary.

Summer 1955

Forrest D. Myers, local realtor and "insurance man," is appointed trustee by Summit County Probate Judge Vincent Zurz.

Oct. 13, 1955

The community foundation receives an additional $264,310 upon becoming the sole trustee of the Edwin Shaw Estate.

Nov. 21, 1955

Paul E. Belcher is appointed trustee by executive members of the United Foundation.

The University of Akron
A grant to the University of Akron set the stage for its conversion from municipal to state status.

June 1957 – total assets $1.2 million

The community foundation makes a $10,000 grant to underwrite the University of Akron’s Committee on the Educational Forecast, which studied what the university needed to do to meet the community’s needs during the next decade. This included projections for enrollment, curriculum, faculty, instruction, finance, facilities and administration. According to then university President Norman Auburn, the work funded by the community foundation "set the stage" for the university’s conversion from municipal to state status.

June 2, 1959 – total assets $1.3 million

Paul A. Frank is elected second president of the community foundation. E.J. Thomas fills the vacancy left open after the death of P.W. Litchfield.

Outgoing president Polsky calls the community foundation "the ideal vehicle for public-spirited citizens who wish to donate or bequest a sum for community betterment." He promised donors would receive "able and experienced" handling of funds and "continuity of administration; diversification of investment; and careful, faithful and intelligent distribution of income."

The 1960s

Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine
A community foundation grant led to the creation of NEOMED.

Feb. 8, 1961

The community foundation makes a $30,000 grant to Visiting Nurse Service for a home health care pilot program. The services developed out of this pilot program received complete certification from the Social Security Administration, enabling Visiting Nurse Service to provide Medicare services to homebound patients all over Summit County once the government’s health care program was established.

A $15,000 grant to the American Medical College Association funds a study that led to the establishment of what is now Northeast Ohio Medical University.

1963

The Akron Board of Education receives $27,000 for a pilot work-study program and $37,360 for its Lane Community School, which laid the groundwork for the Adult Education Program.

Blossom Music Center
Blossom Music Center was constructed with the help of a community foundation grant.

1964

The Akron Board of Education receives a grant of $2,732.78 to start a pre-kindergarten program, which becomes the model upon which the federal Head Start program is instituted. It is the first such grant in U.S. history.

1965 – total assets $1.5 million

1967

The community foundation makes a $10,000 grant to the Akron Board of Education to restore Old Stone School.

1968

The community foundation contributes $20,000 toward the eventual construction of Blossom Music Center. It also makes a $12,943 grant to Akron Public Schools to establish a summer park education program.

The 1970s

1971

The community foundation moves into free office space at the III Cascade Branch of Goodyear Bank.

1972

On July 1, the community foundation moves into the executive offices of Akron National Bank and Trust Company at I Cascade, which the bank provided at no charge.

1973

The community foundation grants $19,500 to Akron Public Schools to underwrite a special needs program for handicapped students and extend day programs to junior high students. It also makes a $10,000 grant to Summit County Historical Society to plan Akron’s 1975 sesquicentennial celebration.

1973

The University of Akron opens E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall, named for the former Goodyear CEO and past community foundation trustee, following a $50,000 grant from the foundation.

Demonstration at Akron Children's Hospital
The grant to Akron Children's Hospital in 1974 was the largest in the community foundation's history at that time.

1974

The community foundation makes an $85,620 grant—the largest in its history at that time—to Akron Children’s Hospital for its Advanced Medical Research Laboratory Program. This enables the hospital to secure a federal grant of $850,000.

1975 – total assets $2.1 million

Akron celebrates its 150th anniversary as Ohio's "City at the Summit." The community foundation makes $15,000 in grants to support the sesquicentennial celebration.

1977

The community foundation moves its offices to the eighth floor of I Cascade, where Akron Regional Development Board, Downtown Association, Knight Foundation and Goals for Greater Akron had their offices.

1978 – total assets $2.4 million

The community foundation distributes $213,022 in grants, an all-time high at that point.

1979

The community foundation makes the first of two $25,000 grants to fund the restoration and renovation of Akron Civic Theatre.

The 1980s

Man examining X-Ray
A grant to Akron City Hospital helped fund critical orthopaedic research.

1980

The community foundation pledges $112,380 to Edwin Shaw Hospital to purchase rehabilitation equipment. It is the largest grant in its 25-year history. That year, it also made grants of $14,000 for Akron General’s blood pheresis program for cancer treatment and $10,000 for orthopaedic research at Akron City Hospital.

1982

On Sept. 24, Akron Community Trusts changes its name to Akron Community Foundation.

1985 – total assets $4.7 million

May 13, 1988

More than 800 people attend the "Evening of Music and Memories" at Akron Civic Theatre, the proceeds of which help establish the Lisle M. Buckingham Fund of Akron Community Foundation. Mr. Buckingham, 92 at the time of the celebration, was the first secretary of Akron Community Trusts. The evening culminates with the presentation of a check for $125,000 to the community foundation.

The 1990s

1990 – total assets $16.8 million

Gordon Heffern, former CEO of Society Corp. (now KeyCorp), becomes president and chief executive officer of Akron Community Foundation after a restructuring by the 18-member board. Jody Bacon joins the community foundation as executive vice president after heading the Jackson Community Foundation in Michigan since 1981. That same year, Heffern moves ACF’s offices into a larger space in the Society Building.

1993-1994

Three new affiliate funds are established at the community foundation to meet the needs of specific groups of people: the Medina County Community Fund, the Women’s Endowment Fund and the Vernon L. Odom Fund.

Breaking ground at the new building location on Cedar Street
Don Fair, John Dotson and Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic break ground on the new building.

1994

The John A. McAlonan Trust is transferred to the community foundation. Its $4.74 million gift becomes the community foundation’s largest single gift in nearly 40 years of existence. In addition, the John S. Knight Center, named for one of the foundation's first trustees, opens in downtown Akron following a grant from the community foundation.

1995 – total assets $32.1 million

Akron Community Foundation’s board establishes four quarterly grantmaking priorities for its discretionary funding: Arts & CultureCivic AffairsHealth & Human Services and Education.

June 8, 1997

Akron Community Foundation breaks ground on its new building at 345 W. Cedar St.

Medina County Women's Endowment Fund Logo

June 25, 1998 – total assets $66.7 million

Akron Community Foundation cuts the ribbon for its new building at the annual meeting.

October 1998

The Medina County Women’s Endowment Fund is established to support programs that create opportunities for the educational, physical, emotional, social, artistic and personal growth of women and children in Medina County.

Nov. 30, 1998

The community foundation holds its first day of operations at its new office.

1999

In partnership with the Akron Beacon Journal, Akron Community Foundation establishes the Millennium Fund for Children to support grassroots children’s programs in the newspaper’s circulation area.

The 2000s

Gay Community Endowment Fund Logo

2001

The Gay Community Endowment Fund is established to support programs and services that positively impact the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, as well as the entire Greater Akron community.

2001

People gathered around a firetruck

Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, FirstMerit Bank and the Akron Beacon Journal create the Fire Truck Fund at Akron Community Foundation. Nearly 55,000 people donate $1.39 million, which is used to purchase two EMS vehicles, three SUV police cruisers, and a 95-foot ladder truck for the New York City Fire Department. 

2004

Akron Community Foundation, Coming Together Akron, the Akron Beacon Journal, FirstMerit Bank and the Summit County chapter of the American Red Cross raise nearly $500,000 to distribute to victims of the tsunami in Indonesia.

A donation truck headed to Biloxi Mississippi.
Donations from across the county helped send a truck full of supplies to Biloxi, Miss.

2005 – total assets $116.6 million

Akron Community Foundation works with the city of Akron, the Akron Beacon Journal, FirstMerit Bank and the Summit County chapter of the American Red Cross to start a fund to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina. The partners raise nearly $900,000 to purchase a refrigerated box truck, delivery van, pallet jack and more for the food bank serving Biloxi, Miss.

2008

John T. Petures Jr. becomes president and CEO of Akron Community Foundation. 

The 2010s

2011

Akron Community Foundation renovates its office on West Cedar Street to better serve donors and nonprofit organizations.

Three men standing together, holding a check
Community foundation President and CEO John T. Petures Jr., left, and board Chairman Michael A. Sweeney, right, accept the $5 million check from Medical Mutual representative Jared Chaney.

2012

Medical Mutual of Ohio breaks community foundation records by donating $5 million to establish the Medical Mutual Community Investment Fund. The gift becomes the largest in the community foundation’s history to that point and is one of a record 40 funds established that year. Through it, the company created a local legacy to fund its corporate charity in Summit County. 

2013 – total assets $150.2 million

The IBH Foundation makes the largest gift in Akron Community Foundation history of $12 million. The endowment fund provides predictable income for IBH Addiction Recovery Center and related programs. 

January 2014

A fire breaks out at the community foundation overnight, causing major damage to the majority of the building and requiring a 10-month renovation.

Bath Community Fund logo

March 2014

On March 31, 2014, the Knight Foundation establishes a record-breaking fund at the community foundation in honor of its outgoing board chair and former Akron Community Foundation board chair, Robert Briggs. The Robert W. Briggs Fund becomes the 41st fund established at the community foundation, breaking the record of 40 new funds started in fiscal year 2012.

June 2014

Akron Community Foundation Lobby
Akron Community Foundation's renovated lobby

A committed group of residents establishes the Bath Community Fund to preserve the history, beauty and legacy of Bath Township for generations to come.

November 2014

Renovations to the foundation’s office are complete following the January 2014 fire.

June 2015 – total assets $191.6 million

Local fundholders, leaders and nonprofits celebrate Akron Community Foundation's 60th anniversary with pop-up parties across the community.

October 2015

Adults and children gathered around a lifesize frame
Akron Rotary Camp for Children with Special Needs and staff members of Akron Community Foundation celebrate the community foundation's 60th anniversary.

Joe Kanfer establishes the community foundation's 500th fund after being selected as the Bert A. Polsky Humanitarian Award recipient.

July 2016

The community foundation celebrates record new funds and grants at its annual meeting. For the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016, 50 new funds were established and $9.5 million was made in grants and distributions – the highest single-year totals in the organization's history.

September 2016

Summit Metro Parks establishes a fund with $3.5 million – the second largest establishing gift for an agency endowment fund in the community foundation's history.

March 2017 – total assets $177.2 million

Foundation sets all-time high for grants and distributions at $11.4 million for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017.

Policeman speaking to children
Policeman engaging with community members

October 2017

The first On the Table Greater Akron community conversations are held around Summit and Medina counties, thanks to funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The feedback received from these conversations will help inform future proactive grantmaking.

March 2018

At the end of the fiscal year, the community foundation distributed a record $13.2 million in grants back into the community, bringing the lifetime total of grants to more than $150 million.

During that time, the foundation also set a new record for the number of funds established in a fiscal year, with 51 new funds. The Summit County Police & Fire Community Engagement Fund, which helps local safety forces participate in community outreach initiatives, was the 600th fund established at the community foundation.

the center for family philanthropy logo

2018

Akron Community Foundation launches The Center for Family Philanthropy, a resource center for the region’s charitable families.

December 2018

The community foundation’s first round of capital improvement grants are awarded to 27 local organizations.

May 2019

The community foundation breaks ground on a 2,500-square-foot expansion and renovation.

Bert A. Polsky
Bert A. Polsky

September 2019 – total assets nearly $225 million

The community foundation awards its first round of proactive grants to organizations addressing three key issues: the aging senior population; drugs and addiction; and diversity, equity and social inclusion. A total of $500,000 in grants is planned over a three-year period.

October 2019

The community celebrates the 50th year of the Bert A. Polsky Humanitarian Award. Originating with what is now the Greater Akron Chamber, the award was inherited by Akron Community Foundation in 1990.

March 2020

Akron Community Foundation establishes the Community Response Fund for Nonprofits to provide flexible resources to nonprofit organizations in Summit and Medina counties working on the front lines of educating, engaging and supporting individuals impacted by the coronavirus.

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