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Leading Locally: Mountain Grove Area Community Foundation

Landmarks, which link the town’s history, heritage and here, are both seen and felt in Mountain Grove, the Wright County seat which was incorporated in the 1870s.

Affiliate foundations

Wright County affiliate has served since 2004

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Mountain Grove is a town of about 4,300 people in a largely agricultural area.

When the small, white stucco structure came to be on the Mountain Grove square in 1915, it was at the center of local life. The Wright County seat was a railroad town, and the square was a gathering place for the community that was at the center of fruit production.

“The Ozarks of southern Missouri earned the nickname, ‘The Land of the Big Red Apple,’ and the area around Wright County in southwest Missouri was at the heart of this growth,” wrote historian Robert Gilmore years ago.

Even though much has changed since the town’s start, reminders and ties to those early days remain. The bandstand still represents a center of community (and was rededicated in 1987 by then Vice President George H.W. Bush). Across town, the Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, which began in 1899 and represents Missouri State University’s oldest campus, still operates. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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A gazebo in the town's center has stood since 1915.

Like those landmarks, generations of locals have worked to address needs and opportunities. An example is found through the Mountain Grove Area Community Foundation, which began in 2004 and has distributed more than $2.4 million back to the community.

“Most of our grants are between $500 and $2,000, so we’re not talking big money at any one time,” says Dr. David Barbe, a founding board member and president of the MGACF. “But when you’re a small, community-based charity or organization, $500 is nice around here.”

While there are challenges — the MGACF originally began with an aim of economic development, which didn’t work out quite as intended — there also have been many good moments.

“We kind of reverted back to what I would call a standard or traditional small-town foundation,” says Barbe. “There were still interested folks; we did some modest fundraising, and used it to fund projects for various churches, schools, community organizations, that sort of thing.

“I would say that’s been mostly our model since then. We have a couple of fundraisers each year that are modest. We haven’t broken out and really done big ones yet, but what we do, we turn back to the community in multiple small grants, usually twice a year.”

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One of the MGACF's projects has been restoring Ina Crandall Park.

The foundation hosts two fundraisers annually — golf and bowling tournaments — that bring locals together. Funding raised has benefited the History and Arts Council, projects for the Lions Club, Care to Learn and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The foundation’s impact is also seen through Ina Crandall Park, located in a residential area of town.

“We started a campaign to restore it. The Boy Scouts did the painting for us, the city did in-kind work, and we kind of gave the money that helped fund (improvements),” says Kimberly Norris, a MGACF board member, who gives examples of a new bathroom, pavilion and equipment. “That park sits next to low-income housing, so it was needed in the area.”

The MGACF also has helped lead fundraisers within the community such as “Quarters for Kids,” in which they worked with local groups to try and collect enough quarters to span a mile in length. Funds raised through the program supported education and health issues within the Mountain Grove area.

“We didn’t quite get there, but we still raised about $12,000 or $13,000 — quite a bit,” Norris says. “All of that money went back into kids’ activities, but not sports. It had to be something other than athletics.”

It’s all part of helping the community’s future grow by investing in its kids today.

“Whenever we have something that looks like it can directly benefit the youth, we are pretty prone to fund those grants,” Barbe says.

“(The MGACF) is a way to make Mountain Grove a better place to live, to play, to work and to worship. We’ve hit all those areas in the grants that we have given. Hopefully, cumulatively, it does make a difference.”

Looking ahead: Greater awareness, about the organization and opportunities

Despite its longevity, leaders of the MGACF say there’s still room to grow in terms of local knowledge about the foundation’s existence. It’s a good thing when someone wants a low-key way to give back, but can present a challenge when there’s a gap in what locals know the foundation can support.

That awareness also extends to opportunities of how people can be involved, both through volunteering and participating, but also with giving opportunities like scholarships and donor-advised funds to support personal causes.

“I wish more people knew that they could set up scholarships through us,” says Norris of an option to help students further their education.

“The only way we’re going to really truly make Mountain Grove better is if we bring our kids back here.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

“It is a way to get back to the community, but it’s a way to make the community better.”

— David Barbe, MGACF board president

“It’s worthwhile, and it’s a way you can help your community. You don’t want to be in the spotlight; you’re just working behind the scenes.”

— Kimberly Norris, MGACF board secretary

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