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Leading Locally: Benton County Community Foundation

Based in the town of Warsaw, the Benton County Community Foundation serves the county seat and the surrounding — largely rural — area which was originally home to Native Americans of several tribes, of which the Osage was the largest.

Affiliate foundations

Based in Warsaw, Benton County affiliate serves wider area

From Native American tribes to the founding of Warsaw in 1843 — allegedly named for a Polish general, although that story isn’t verifiable today — to German settlers who began creating communities on the county’s eastern side, Benton County is a place with a culturally distinct history.

On the edge of Warsaw, the Upper Bridge was constructed over the Osage River in 1904 — a place that, in more modern times, ties in with Truman Lake and an increase in regional tourism.

Yet rich history doesn’t always meet modern needs. One avenue of support for locals is found through the Benton County Community Foundation, which since 1999 has distributed more than $790,977 in grants to the community. As of June 2023, it also holds assets totaling $1,657,298.

“There were probably two or three of us that thought that Warsaw and particularly Benton County needed to look at the possibility of philanthropy in a number of ways,” says Randy Eaton, one of the BCCF’s founders and a current board member. “Very, very few people were philanthropic at all — but that didn’t mean that we couldn’t help a little bit.

“Lots of people thought the foundation sounded like a good idea. And then we just kind of went from there.”

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On the edge of Warsaw, the Upper Bridge was constructed over the Osage River in the early 1900s.

In the nearly 25 years since its founding, the BCCF has served a wide variety of local needs. Examples include the Benton County Historical Society and funding to help install restroom facilities at a nearby rural church. The foundation has contributed to a local teacher’s efforts to increase STEM education when school funds needed a boost. It has also helped procure new shoes, socks and underwear for local school kids through Happy Feet, a local charitable organization.

“It’s for anybody that comes in. They have the underwear and socks there at the church, and then the next day they go up to JCPenney’s and they get a pair of shoes until they run out,” says Dorcas Brethower, president of the BCCF, of the latter effort. “It’s really grown and is near and dear to our hearts.”

Those grants have historically been distributed in the fall, while the board also handles the selection of several local scholarships in the spring.

“I like the fact that we can show people how we can take a little bit of your money, and a little bit of your money, and we can make a lot of money and help a lot more organizations,” says Tracey Martin Spry, BCCF board treasurer.

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In addition to Warsaw, the BCCF serves Benton County's other communities and rural corners.

One of the foundation’s most recent projects is the Benton County Philanthropic Society. The new giving circle allows members to contribute $250 each, which gives them each a vote on how the money should be distributed in the community.

“It was amazing to me — we had some people that were automatically, ‘I’m in,’ and people started signing up right away,” says Suzie Brodersen, a BCCF board member. “Then we started going out and doing small-group sessions within the communities and letting them know, ‘Come, ask questions.’ That helped some, but it really took a real grassroots effort by the board members.”

The board met its goal of 100 members for the first year, and the $25,000 collected was then matched by the Kansas-City-based Patterson Family Foundation. The $50,000 pool was distributed in November to three local causes: $25,000 to the Cole Camp swimming pool; $15,000 to Lincoln Community Betterment; and $10,000 to the Foodbank of Northeast and Central Missouri.

Another longtime fundraiser for the BCCF is the Benton County Wine Stroll. Held annually in April, the event draws wineries from across Missouri to Warsaw, where they offer samples (and sales). Attendees purchase tickets to participate, which benefits the foundation’s endowment.

“We started with a few wineries the first year, and I think this past year, we had 22 wineries,” Brethower says. “Originally, they were inside the businesses, and now we’re out on Main Street. It’s just beautiful.”

Looking to the future: Greater awareness and connection through the county

Even though the BCCF literally has the county in its name, there is still room for greater connectivity between rural communities and the seat of Warsaw. One hope the board members have is that the new giving circle will help increase those connections as greater resources are able to be funneled into rural areas.

“The whole idea is to raise that awareness,” says Brodersen. “Because how many people in Cole Camp weren’t even aware that there was the Benton County Community Foundation with the exception of a few board members we’ve managed to carve out there over the years? I mean, there just wasn’t a lot of connection.

“You know, we’re hopeful that those types of things will make people think, ‘Oh, that sounds like a great program. I think that would be awesome. I want to be part of that if I can be.’”

Additionally, the board hopes to eventually involve local students in the board’s work to educate the next generation on the power of philanthropy.

“One of the biggest misnomers is that you have to be rich to be involved in philanthropy,” Eaton says. “You have to kind of explain to people that you have to want to give a little bit of money, but you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to make it work.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

Benton county Dorcas Brethower 4x5

“It’s the philanthropy part of it; to be able to give back to the community. I really liked that about the foundation before I was on the board. It was important to me, and an honor, to be chosen to be on the board and to be able to help promote that within the county and build it.”

—Dorcas Brethower, BCCF board president

Benton county Suzie Brodersen 4x5

“I think anybody can say that if you are truly passionate about philanthropy, then giving back is right up there at the top as far as things that are important. I always tried to stay involved in the community, but I really didn’t find my niche until I found the foundation.”

—Suzie Brodersen, BCCF board member

Benton county Randy Eaton 4x5

“It’s a form of mission work — whatever that mission might be, whether it’s education, helping alleviate poverty or informing people about what’s available out there.”

—Randy Eaton, BCCF board member

Benton county Tracey Martin Spry 4x5

“It just feels good to be able to give back to all these different organizations. It’s rewarding.”

—Tracey Martin Spry, BCCF board treasurer

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