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Leading Locally: Perry County Community Foundation

The largely agricultural county along the Missouri-Illinois border is served by a foundation board with deep roots, but a desire to make a difference in the present day

Affiliate foundations

Eastern Missouri affiliate supports local projects and needs

The idea for the Perry County Community Foundation came from locals — organizers met back in 2013 and formed the foundation to “encourage, guide and facilitate the creation of charitable funds.”

Their mission was to create the start of long-term impact on the culture, education and aesthetics of the local area. A decade later, the reputation of the PCCF leads community members to come forward themselves to share projects they think might be doable with the support of the foundation.

“We want to generate pride, generosity and inspiration,” says Angela Swan, chairperson of the PCCF, of the foundation’s efforts. “To just really present what a nice community this is to live in, and what we really have here, and how lucky we are.”

The model has led to a unique identity for the PCCF. Its board isn’t as focused on fundraising as it is serving as a resource bank and conduit for efforts they might not previously have considered.

“Because of the wealth in the area, we needed a way to process that wealth and help it go from individual accounts to something that benefits our community,” says Frank Robinson, one of the PCCF’s founding board members. “I think that’s the big thing that our foundation does — it allows us a method to help each other out.”

The efforts the PCCF have supported vary from community enrichment (more on that in a minute) to in-the-moment needs like recovery from an EF4 tornado in 2017.

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Perry County, located along Missouri's eastern border, was established in 1821.

“We were able to collect funds, and be a conduit for donations to come in,” says Ken Baer, a founding PCCF board member who now serves on the advisory board. “We ended up collecting $170,000, and we were able to distribute it without a lot of paperwork to individual families. I think that was one of our first major accomplishments.”

Projects the foundation has facilitated include the construction of Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial, the focal point of which is an exact replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

It was the passion project of Jim Eddleman, who made a promise during his years of service during the Vietnam War that he would honor his comrades if he made it home alive. That led Eddleman to be one of the project’s largest donors, including the contribution of 46 acres of his family’s land. The memorial officially opened in 2019.

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The Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial, a project made possible in part by the PCCF, opened in 2019.

"The veteran’s wall is very noteworthy from the standpoint, that it was a huge, huge project — not only locally, but statewide and nationally,” says Sean Unterreiner, a PCCF board member. “It’s on everybody’s radar, and it got us on the map. It’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, these guys here in Perry County, they’re embracing a project of that size and magnitude.’

“First, it was a vision, right? Then a group of individuals came together, they took a vision, implemented the vision, and now we have the veterans walk out and the memorial. You take that success, and it starts a domino effect.”

Another project is through Lucas Fritsche, a local teenager who championed an all-inclusive playground designed for individuals with special needs. It came to be when Fritsche, who at the time was in third grade, led the charge to raise $500,000 to complete funding to construct the playground after seeing some friends unable to enjoy other local facilities due to physical limitations. The first phase is complete, and work is underway on an expansion that will include a zip line, climbers, swings and more.

“Again, it was a vision and a thought, and because the community foundation was there to help connect the dots for that idea to become reality,” Unterreiner says. “That’s when we realized that we can serve the community and all these projects, all these ideas — that companies and families have — by getting the process started and serving as a conduit.”

“We’re the facilitators,” adds Baer. “The idea comes from someone in the community and we help make it happen by directing the funds here and there, and kind of setting up a tax basis for to make it work better.”

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When Lucas Fritsche was in third grade, he wanted to install an all-inclusive playground in Perryville. The first phase of Lucas & Friends Backyard Adventures Playground is now open to the community, with plans for expansion in the works.

Fritsche represents another of the PCCF’s key efforts: Its Humanitarian Award, which is presented annually at a dinner that celebrates a lifetime of service of an individual in the community. At just 14, Fritsche was its honoree in 2021.

“There’s been a huge variance of winners, everyone from a child to posthumous award to business leaders in the town,” says Abby Petzoldt, foundation coordinator for the PCCF. “Another component of the evening is that we bring in a national-level speaker. This adds extra value to our event and is something that people in our community may not have regular access to otherwise.”

Looking forward: Increasing awareness, focus on youth and grant funding

In addition to efforts around expanding its grantmaking program, the PCCF is actively expanding its focus on youth. Board members are working to increase the number of scholarship funds it holds to at least 10 to distribute annually. 

Another focus is the emerging Perry County CEO Program in connection with the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, which is rolling out to connect students with hands-on training and mentoring with local business leaders. It’s expected to launch in 2024. 

“It’s creating entrepreneurial opportunities for high school students,” Petzoldt says. “The foundation is acting as a fiscal sponsor for them to be able to have that program and bring it to life.” 

Through the program, community leaders commit funding and time to spend on 10 to 15 local high school seniors, who spend about half of their final year at the various businesses to learn from their leaders. 

“A focus of the program is to try and keep money and future leaders in the community, so it provides the opportunity for students to start their own business,” Petzoldt says. “What they found is they often keep the business in the community and continue it after college.”

In their own words

Why do you serve?

Angela Swan feb 2022 1x1

“We really are in a kind of golden moment right now where our intentions are matching our actions. That’s what was important to me: That we have a foundation in the community that has intention. When you have intention, you have clarity; when you have clarity, you can take action that has an impact far into the future.”

—Angela Swan, PCCF board chairperson

Sean unterreiner perry county 800x800 affiliate president

“We have a great community, and we’ve got to keep that trajectory going. What we start here — our grandkids are going to be able to enjoy some of those benefits.”

—Sean Unterreiner, PCCF board member

Perry county cf Frank Robinson 4x5

“The people who get on the Perry County Community Foundation board and the people who participate in our events all care about our community. They have a vision, and we want to see our community grow and our community do better. With the events that we have and the things that we sponsor, they are ways to see our community improve. That’s important to a lot of us.”

—Frank Robinson, PCCF board member

Perry county cf Ken Baer 4x5

“We all have an obligation for community service, and the foundation is a great avenue to make that happen. I mean, it’s part of life and what we should be doing. Promoting aesthetics is very important.”

—Ken Baer, PCCF advisory board member

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