Skip to Main Content
CFO Stories

Leading Locally: Community Foundation of the Hermann Area

The Missouri settlement known for its wine and European heritage dates to 1837. Nearly 200 years later, ties to those early years — linking family and future — still remain for the community along the Missouri River.

Affiliate foundations

Supporting both Hermann's past and future

For many who know it, Hermann exists as a tourist town, complete with historic brick buildings, landmarks and elements of life that point to its European history and heritage.

German and Swiss settlers in the 1800s helped create that reality: They arrived in the United States from Europe before heading west. After realizing the rocky Missouri land was not suited for all crops, however, they began planting vineyards.

“Hermann was formed because the people that had German heritage on the East Coast, mostly from Philadelphia, decided they were losing their ways,” says Ron Kraettli, a local whose family goes back to nearly the start of the town. “They decided to move out to this area and keep the German heritage. That’s what prompted this to go on here.

“When they laid out Hermann, Market Street is the big street. It’s also the big street in Philadelphia,” Kraettli continues. “Our Market Street is wider than the one in Philadelphia because they thought the town was going to be bigger than Philadelphia.”

Hermann area leading locally 16x9 4

Hermann's heritage shines through its architecture and landmarks.

While Hermann didn’t quite make that leap — it has about 2,500 residents today compared with Philadelphia’s 1.5 million — parts of its past have contributed to the present.

The unexpectedly ideal conditions for grape-growing planted the early seeds for today’s wine industry, which attracts visitors from across the region — especially St. Louis, which is just about 90 minutes to the east — to sample the area’s distinctive drinkability.

But there are others who call the town home year-round, and it’s for them that the Community Foundation of the Hermann Area exists.

Since 2005, the foundation — which is an affiliate of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks — has worked to meet local needs both of individuals and community causes. As a result, it has distributed more than $3.3 million in grants to the community. The foundation also holds assets totaling $3,729,984 as of June 2023.

The genesis of the CFHA is tied to fundraising for cancer patients. Before the creation of the foundation, the community was collectively raising funds for a nonprofit that didn’t directly benefit local individuals.

“They generated a fairly good amount of money, but it never came back to the community,” says Kraettli, who also serves as president of the CFHA. “They said, ‘Why are we generating all this to send it off someplace, and we don’t have any benefit from the community?’”

Hermann area leading locally 16x9 1

Wineries and vineyards are common sights in the Hermann area.

That led to the start of the local foundation, and support for many causes in the years since. Just two examples include Touch of Hope, an organization that serves survivors of domestic abuse, and the Hermann Community Food Pantry, which serves dozens of families each month.

“There’s no qualification,” says Elise Bellefontaine, foundation coordinator for the CFHA. “You can be on food stamps and pick up food from our food pantry. You can not be on food stamps and pick up food from our food pantry.”

Funds under the foundation’s umbrella also frequently benefit students through scholarships — not just in Hermann, but also in the surrounding area. The foundation has never given less than eight scholarships annually, its leaders say.

“I would say that the lion’s share of our accounts are scholarships for students and for our kids,” Bellefontaine says. “We handle a lot of those locally and the money goes to the Hermann area. The kids could live in the next county over and go to our school district here.”

Bellefontaine gives an example of a scholarship tied to a local golf tournament, which distributes five $2,000 renewable scholarships annually.

“That starts to give a little perspective of what we say about taking care of people, and taking care of our kids,” she says. “That’s the size of things that we’re talking about.”

Hermann area leading locally 16x9 3

Hermann, the seat of Gasconade County, is located along the Missouri River.

In addition to grants and scholarships, the foundation also serves the community through advocacy and economic development. The latter was extended through the Growth in the Rural Ozarks program. The initiative, founded in 2016 and initially supported by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, offers training and economic-development coaching to towns in an effort to increase local prosperity.

While some of the challenges are larger than the scope of what the CFHA can do on its own, the foundation is part of the conversation about needs like additional housing, students for local schools, the impacts of flooding and the necessity of local health care. Another effort that’s in the works: Creating a viniculture, culinary and hospitality program for local students given the local opportunities.

While the latter is championed at the top level by the local school district, it’s a mission that ties to GRO and other tenants of community support through the CFHA.

“If they’re taught a trade that basically keeps them here, then they can do that,” Kraettli says.

“And we’ve seen an influx in kids coming back here, specifically for viniculture,” adds Bellefontaine.

Looking ahead: Growth and collaboration

Another point on the horizon that the CFHA will play a role in, its board members say, is the approval of a local Port Authority between Hermann and neighboring Montgomery County. That designation allows the communities greater management of transportation elements, like bridges, tunnels, airports and more, and also gives communities access to certain types of federal funding.

“That was just approved through the state highway commission last month. That’s all been stamped off on, and we’re now in that world,” says Melissa Lensing, a CFHA board member and executive director of the Hermann Area Chamber of Commerce.

While she says the effort will require significant collaboration between multiple organizations including the chamber, city, county and others, it may also involve the CFHA from an input and development standpoint.

“Everything costs money, so there’s strategic planning, and then you move into a feasibility study, and then a full-blown capital campaign. That’s what we’re considering so we have the funding for whatever projects pop up,” Lensing says. “The next steps with that are: What does the community want and need, and what do we have to have to make that happen? Certainly, the Community Foundation will be involved in that to provide input.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

“My family came in 1844. I was born here, I grew up here and I have a history here.”

—Ron Kraettli, CFHA board president

“It helps in the collaboration piece. I’ve gained knowledge about what our organizations need and expect and what our community needs.”

—Melissa Lensing, CFHA board member

Support our mission by becoming a donor today.

Donate Now