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Leading Locally: Stockton Community Foundation

Known as the Black Walnut Capital of the World, Stockton was founded in 1846. The Cedar County seat is located near Stockton Lake — a destination that drew more than 250,000 visitors in 2022.

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Serving through community causes

It’s been 20 years since the day that changed everything dawned in Stockton, the Cedar County seat known for black walnuts and lake-life living. That notoriety had a temporary change on May 4, 2003, when an EF3 tornado ripped through the community of about 1,700, destroying much of the town — one of several touchdowns that devastated other areas in the region on the same day.

“They’d been gone 10, maybe 15 minutes and they came screaming back down the driveway and they’re like, ‘The whole town’s just gone,’” recalls Peggy Kenney, Cedar County treasurer, whose family went into Stockton after the storm rolled through that day. “It’s like, ‘What?’

“They said, ‘The whole town. It just took out the town.’”

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Stockton is the seat of Cedar County.

For those who lived the experience, perhaps life will never be completely the same. But some 20 years since that day, when piles of rubble filled the town within seconds, the community has rebuilt and rebounded. Those efforts were aided by the Stockton Community Foundation, which was officially founded exactly a year and one day before the tornado’s destruction.

“I’ll always remember the meeting where the idea was presented,” says Brian Hammons, who was the president of the SCF when it was formed in 2002. “It seemed like something really great.

“With the tornado, things really accelerated (for giving) because we had the tools in place.”

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Brian Hammons shows a photo of a sign spotted in Stockton shortly after the tornado.

Today, awareness around the SCF has continued to grow, helping build its reputation as a leader when locals want to support their community philanthropically. To date, the SCF has distributed more than $1.1 million back to the community. It also holds assets totaling $1,052,075 as of June 2023.

“We are still able to help with community needs, COVID being a good example,” says Kim Chism Jasper, president of the SCF. “We have a lot of funding that went for health issues to help keep food going to people through Meals on Wheels; money going toward hospitals for the purchase of things that they could use for people during COVID.

“I think because of the tornado, and we know what good can come from it, people are willing to give money for helping people in the area.”

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Stockton's downtown area was largely rebuilt after the 2003 tornado.

A significant project is the Stockton Trails Initiative, which is a collaboration between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the SCF to establish miles of hiking trails around Stockton Lake. It also involved the construction of a kids’ catch-and-release pond below Stockton Dam, and the placement of wildlife sculptures on the trails that educate and add beauty to the hiking experience.

Additionally, the SCF holds more than 40 funds under its umbrella, which support causes from scholarships to civic organizations and the local school district. In addition to funds for those causes and many others, the SCF also regularly supports local nonprofits through its grantmaking.

“The biggest impact SCF has on our community is the many grants awarded over the years for the school system and community nonprofits,” says Alisa Bough, SCF vice president. “Scholarships set up through our philanthropic encouragement and support have rewarded the community in vast numerous ways that are noticed daily by individuals.”

That collective work benefits the community, but also is why leaders serve through the SCF.

“I was motivated to become involved with SCF because I want the Stockton community to continue to grow, progress and flourish,” Bough says. “To be able for future generations to not only succeed as individuals, but for Stockton as a community to succeed.

“Being a part of this organization gives me the privilege of seeing grant requests from start to finish and personally gives me great pride in the Stockton citizens and as a place to live. The goal of our citizens is to make things better for others — we are able to help facilitate the process.”

“I enjoy the sincerity of the SCF’s mission in helping people to cultivate a true attitude of philanthropy through any size of project,” adds Marvin Manning, a SCF board member. “It doesn’t take a massive amount of funds or a longtime investment of work in the community. Anyone can get involved and have an impact immediately — the reward for serving on this Board is seeing that involvement take root and continue among community members.”

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