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Leading Locally: Fair Grove Area Community Foundation

The northeastern Greene County community dates to 1846 and was once a destination for local farmers who brought their grain to the town for grinding. Today, it’s the site of an annual ice cream social — now more than 40 years running — as well as the Fair Grove Heritage Reunion.

Affiliate foundations

Greene County affiliate serves causes around Fair Grove

The legacy of Fair Grove is as visible as its Wommack Mill, a landmark which operated from 1883 until 1969 and sits along Main Street. The mill’s presence reminds of history — but also of community spirit, which was required to begin preserving the aging structure some 50 years ago.

History is indeed part of Fair Grove’s heritage. In addition to the historic Wommack Mill, which is overseen by the Fair Grove Historical and Preservation Society, the community’s downtown features vintage storefronts. Nearby, there’s a cemetery with history dating to 1844 — and a tombstone for two mules, Pete and Jack, who were unofficial mascots for the town in the late ’70s and early ’80s — and a replica schoolhouse built with logs. Those historical elements are on display all year-round, but especially each fall, when the Fair Grove Heritage Reunion is held on the last weekend in September.

They’re all part of the spirit of Fair Grove, a community of about 1,500 people in Greene County, which is served by the Fair Grove Area Community Foundation. Since its inception in April 2021, the FGACF has already distributed $80,570 in grants to the community and holds assets totaling $266,764 as of June 2023.

“Fair Grove is a very supportive town, whether it’s supporting local businesses, or families in need,” says Brandee Zibilski-Lentz, a FGACF board member who grew up locally. “Whatever it might be, Fair Grove is a very giving community.”

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Fair Grove's historical downtown district features unique shops and stops.

While it has taken a group to get the foundation operational, one person at the very beginning was Lisa Bernet, who helped get it off the ground.

“She saw the need for grantmaking within Fair Grove and thought that it was going to be a great benefit to our community,” says Bradley Daniels, president of the FGACF. “That’s kind of where it started. She then went through the proper channels to form a committee and the board, and we started fundraising. Once we started fundraising, we actually got the funding pretty quickly.”

That initial $30,000 formed the base of the FGACF’s endowment. Interest from the funding now allows grants to be distributed in the community, some of which include Care to Learn, the aforementioned Fair Grove Historical and Preservation Society, the Fair Grove Senior Center, and the Fair Grove Parent Teacher Organization.

Fair grove area hero

One of Fair Grove's landmarks is the Boegel and Hine Flour Mill. Also known by its more modern name of Wommack Mill, the structure dates to the 1880s.

“I love having the community make requests since they know what is needed and seeing their ideas to make it happen,” says Tammie Tucker, a board member for the FGACF.

It’s also part of full-circle transparency for the community and the board so the work being done is clearly visible.

“If we’re coming to ask for donations for the foundation, we want everyone to see how it benefits the community,” says Daniels. “That’s why we’ve wanted to hit multiple organizations within those two grant rounds.”

Looking forward: Growing awareness

The FGACF board hopes to increase awareness about the foundation — both what it does, and how community members can be involved.

Part of that work comes through ideas for community events, which FGACF board members say are stepping stones to even bigger things. One was a cornhole tournament, which was scheduled for late October. Even though it ultimately had to be cancelled due to weather, the planning still may tie to new work in the future.

“This cornhole tournament can blossom into a lot of different things in the future, but we have to start somewhere, right?” Daniels says. “I envision that we’re laying the foundation for a wonderful financial benefit for our community for years and years to come.”

In addition to distributing grants, the FGACF offers support for local nonprofits through the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, as well as options for donors who seek to leave a local legacy via grants and scholarships.

“I think that the more education that people are receiving about the foundation, the more open and excited they are to give,” says Daniels. “I’ve had people call me and say, ‘Hey, are you part of the Community Foundation?’ And I said, ‘Yes, matter of fact.’ They say, ‘We heard you were, and we’d like to donate.’

“I didn’t have to solicit at all. It was just because of the word of mouth; of people finding out what was going on. That’s been one of the biggest rewards — someone calling us and saying, ‘I want to give you money.’ I think it’s fantastic. I think that’s probably the best thing.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

“How do you give back to a community that’s been so good to you? For me, I think that’s the story. I moved to town in January 2012 and I knew a few people, but not many at all. I have been so blessed by the support that I have received. You look back and you say, ‘That’s awesome that they’ve been willing to do as much business with me as they have. How can I give back?’ This is a wonderful way to do it.”

Bradley Daniels, FGACF board president

“I was raised here, and when I was a member of the school, the community supported us. So giving back to the community that supported me is probably the most important thing for myself, and for my family.”

—Brandee Zibilski-Lentz, FGACF board member

“I love being involved with a foundation that gives back to the community to help improve life for those in need, but also give to make things better. It’s a win-win when you can help nonprofits be able to help more families or improve our schools or areas in our town that need support.”

—Tammie Tucker, FGACF board member

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