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Leading Locally: Eldon Community Foundation

Eldon, home of the marshmallow Pepsi and around 4,500 people, helped provide inspiration for the 1960s TV program “Petticoat Junction.” Today, the local economy of the small town — located around 30 minutes from the state capital — is anchored in manufacturing.

Affiliate Foundations

Eldon affiliate builds bridges through community development

Legacy — created in both the present and the past — is part of the future through the Eldon Community Foundation. Since its founding in 2005, more than $1.8 million has been distributed in grants to the community.

An example is through the Rock Island Depot, a new building in a well-known spot: It was there where the Rock Island Railroad once came through town. Construction of the symbolic depot, supported by the ECF, provides a home for the Eldon Area Chamber of Commerce and a small museum highlighting local history.

“We were able to fundraise over $188,000 for the project, which was a partnership with the city, the school, the chamber and the community foundation,” says Board President Matt Davis, who also serves as superintendent of the Eldon School District. “Our Building Trades students were the general contractors and built it, the city gave us the property, the community foundation was the pass-through of funds and helped raise the money.”

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Construction of the Rock Island Depot was recently completed. Supported by the ECF, it provides a home for the Eldon Area Chamber of Commerce and a small museum highlighting local history.

Like the depot, improving community spaces is a key priority of the ECF. That goal has even led to helping fund the demolition of derelict homes that the city didn’t have cash to demolish. The mindset is also connected with Eldon’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.

Some of those efforts are fueled by the 100 Empowered Women of Eldon, a giving circle that has contributed more than $116,600 to the community since its creation in 2017. To be part of the group, women contribute $500 annually, and help suggest projects that would benefit the community. Then they decide as a group how to allocate the funds.

“Our first year, we gave almost $14,000 to the project of the depot,” says Linda Bierbower, a longtime ECF board member and founder of the giving circle. “Since then, we have done lots of nice benches. We’ve done flags. We’ve paid for murals. We’ve replaced trees at Rock Island Park after the tornado went through. This year, we bought four new scoreboards for the ballfields in town.

“Every year, we feel like we’re just making Eldon a little bit better.”

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A mural shares spirit in downtown Eldon.

Those efforts align with evolution for the ECF, which has shifted to focus on high-impact grantmaking for the community of around 4,500.

Located around 30 minutes from Jefferson City, the town has been long-anchored in manufacturing, and works to keep its close-knit spirit alive. It’s also home to the marshmallow Pepsi, a fluff-topped drink available at the local Cree Mee Drive-In. (Pop-culture trivia: That small-town feel even led an Eldon hotel — owned by relatives of TV pioneer Paul Henning — to be the inspiration for the 1960s TV sitcom “Petticoat Junction.”)

“When COVID hit, and a lot of things were shut down, I realized that Elton had everything we needed,” Davis says. “We have a grocery store, pharmacy, doctor’s offices — just anything you needed. We could stay here, not have to travel. Our community had that. And so that was just a nice feeling.”

Eldon Community Foundation's next goal: Expanded focus, communication and collaboration

A key project ahead is the Rock Island Trail, which goes through Eldon and will ultimately provide a 144-mile biking trail through town.

“The big thing has been completing the depot down there, and our concentration and efforts toward the trail,” says Board Member Ed Bierbower.

While the ECF isn’t responsible for completion of the trail — it spans multiple communities and 144 miles and is led by Missouri Rock Island Trail Inc., an agency partner of the CFO — the town has been involved in helping make progress on the project. Eldon leaders helped obtain permission from Missouri Central Railroad to build a trail next to the rail bed, and local volunteers helped remove more than 110 tons of trash and vegetation from a nearby three-mile corridor inside the city limits.

Those efforts are part of an ongoing effort, led by the GRO program, to work more collaboratively with local organizations — and share the news when good things are happening.

“We’re all trying to work together on the same thing,” Davis says. “The chamber isn’t off doing one thing, and the city doing one thing, the school doing one thing. We all try to get together — that’s part of that GRO strategy.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

Eldon cf 4x5 matt davis

I want to make Eldon the best place for families. I just think being part of this every year we add things or make it just a little bit better. Sometimes our community used to say, ‘Oh, well, we don’t have money for that,’ or, ‘We can’t have that.’ Now I think we look at it and say, ‘We’ll figure it out. Don’t ever let money be a reason not to do something.’”

—Matt Davis, ECF president

Eldon cf 4x5 ed bierbower

Matt (Davis) came to our Lions Club and spoke about the foundation. He surprised a number of people in the community who don’t really understand the foundation. They think that it’s just here in Eldon and they don’t know about all we do. I want to help get the word out more.”

—Ed Bierbower, ECF board member

Eldon cf 4x5 linda bierbower

“I am amazed that our community has something like this. It does such good all the time. I think when you’re involved in it, you’re constantly telling people and suggesting to them because you just see all the good that the foundation does.”

—Linda Bierbower, ECF board member

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