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Leading Locally: Dallas County Community Foundation

The Dallas County Community Foundation is based in Buffalo, which features a rarity in Missouri: a midcentury-modern courthouse. The county, part of territory previously belonging to Osage Native Americans, was established by settlers from Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio in the 1830s. A local draw for visitors is Bennett Spring State Park, which is shared with neighboring Laclede County.

Affiliate Foundations

Buffalo-based affiliate focuses on economic development

The Dallas County Community Foundation has served the people in and around Buffalo through $325,751 in grants since its founding in 1998. In more recent years, however, that support has manifested less in one-off needs than contributing to a bigger economic vision and a concentrated call to “Believe in Buffalo,” as the unofficial town slogan says.

“We’re not an affiliate with a lot of money — we have a lot of heart,” says Board President Joy Beamer.

Funds are distributed in creative ways, but often support larger efforts of community spirit and improvement.

“I’m always pushing to utilize the money for something that develops the economy; our economic situation that’s significant for the long-term,” says Board Member Sue Dyle.

Dallas county scenes 16x9 2

A mural, added in 2022, graces the side of a building off the Buffalo square.

An example is the 2022 Christmas Parade, for which the DCCF granted $250 in awards for winning floats — a relatively small financial contribution that had the chance to make a big impact on community spirit.

“They wouldn’t have prizes if we hadn’t come up with that money because our Chamber of Commerce is small and we don’t have that kind of funds,” says Beamer. “You think about that — there’s hundreds of people that come in for the parade so it serves a large group, but yet we didn’t have to pay much out to be helpers with that.”

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Buffalo was founded in 1841 on Buffalo Head Prairie. It ultimately became the seat of Dallas County, which was named after U.S. Vice President George M. Dallas.

A more holistic view of that community betterment comes through the DCCF’s participation in the Growth in the Rural Ozarks program. The initiative, founded in 2016 and originally connected with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, offers training and economic-development coaching to towns in an effort to bring local prosperity.

“Rural communities have different challenges than those of larger metros, one of which is capacity — both in people and capital,” says Board Member Hollie Elliott, who also leads Buffalo’s economic development efforts. “We are responsible for our own development, and without intentional effort it is difficult to achieve.

“GRO Buffalo helped with this reset. It brought leaders and volunteers together under one shared purpose: visioning and investing in the betterment of our community together. Oftentimes, little things lead to bigger things over time.”

That coaching through GRO led to new knowledge, but also changing attitudes in the small community.

“A good part of the story, with the Community Foundation and GRO, led to us passing a bond issue. At the same time, passed a tax increase, which is completely unheard of in Dallas County,” says Dyle. “It passed pretty wholeheartedly. That was an outward show of changing culture.”

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Buffalo Head Prairie Historical Park is located in the Dallas County seat and features a number of vintage buildings and teaching tools.

Another manifestation is overhead, as planes regularly land at the public-use Buffalo Municipal Airport, built in the ’50s but in recent years, nearly closed. More recently, however, it has seen revitalization — and buzzing planes and pilots.

“It’s my understanding it came about this close to just being decommissioned by the city because there wasn’t really anybody using it,” says Dyle. “About the time we started GRO, we said, ‘An airport is infrastructure. Do we really want to just let this go? Or do we want to try to save it and do something with it?’

“The decision was made that we needed to try to save it and do something with it. We just started literally as a piece of ground with some pavement on it — that’s all there was.”

Work started small — by literally installing a toilet so pilots had a facility to use when they came to town. Other improvements have followed, including access to a courtesy car for pilots.

It’s just one example in a list of work being done in the community to change — and change attitudes.

“It’s become more than a thing where people just get together and meet and decide what to do,” says Beamer. “It’s a movement. Whether you’re working with the Girl Scouts, or your church youth group, or Helping Hands, it’s all because we believe in Buffalo.”

Dallas County Community Foundation's Next Goal: Continuing the momentum on local development projects

The Dallas County Community Foundation is part of active community development initiatives, one of which is continued development of the public-use Buffalo Municipal Airport. Foundation leaders expect that in early 2023, fuel will be available at the airport, which is the next step in promoting the resource as a draw for the town.

From the colorful new bison greeting visitors to downtown to encouraging litter pickups, community beautification also is a priority, building on the “broken-window phenomenon.”

“It’s where if you have a broken window, and you fix it, then your neighbor starts thinking about fixing their stuff,” explains Dyle. “I would have just thought that was rhetoric, and just not really reality. But it wasn’t — and downtown is a perfect example.

“One person painted their facade, all of a sudden, the next person is. Now we have repainted several facades. I could point them out — 10 of them at least, all around town. And that just makes things better.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

Dallas county portrait 4x5 joy beamer

“I grew up in a household where it was preached God, family, community, education, and those in that order. My father would always tell us to go to church where you’re planted, keep your family close, and work within your community to make it a better place to live. Educate yourself so you know how to do it. So here I am, towards the end of my life, and I hope that I’ve made him proud.”

—Joy Beamer, DCCF president

Dallas county portrait 4x5 sue dyle

It’s fun to make things happen. It’s not easy. There are a lot of roadblocks. But overcoming those challenges is rewarding. People here must surely all be cut from a little bit the same cloth to have a tenacity because I think in a lot of small communities, people just give up way too soon.”

—Sue Dyle, DCCF treasurer

Dallas county portrait 4x5 hollie elliott

"Local affiliate foundations allow for our community to make an impact where we see it every day: in our community. There are countless meaningful nonprofits and foundations, but the Dallas County Community Foundation provides the opportunity for us to make impactful donations and contributions to organizations and causes right here at home, and that is very powerful.

—Hollie Elliott, DCCF board member

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