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Centennial blog: 2024 Eminent Artist Nora Chapa Mendoza was honored to work with civil rights icon Cesar Chavez


Kresge is celebrating its Centennial in 2024. Throughout the year, we will highlight important figures, memorable moments, stories of impact, and learnings in this space. Check back often to see what’s new. 

Chapa Mendoza, who has fought for many causes including labor rights for migrant and farm workers, calls Chavez a “great man.”

March 31, 2024

Nora Chapa Mendoza (left) and her son Sam talking with Cesar Chavez in 1986 at Wayne State University. (Photo courtesy of Sam Mendoza)

March 31 is Cesar Chavez Day, when we celebrate the birth and legacy of the civil rights and labor movement activist Cesar Chavez.

This year’s Kresge Eminent Artist, Nora Chapa Mendoza, a celebrated painter and cultural activist, had the pleasure of meeting Chavez at a conference in the 1980s.

Chavez learned that Chapa Mendoza was an artist and later commissioned her to create a series of paintings and a special collection of postcards to benefit the farm workers union’s efforts.

“I admired him a lot,” she said. “Cesar changed the whole world by humanizing farm laborers, the lowest of the ladder of work in this country.”

A postcard created by Kresge Eminent Artist Nora Chapa Mendoza of a migrant farm worker in the field carrying a bucket above his head.Chapa Mendoza keeps a framed photo of the late Chavez on her desk in her studio as a reminder of their work together and their Chicano roots. She is especially proud of a signed letter from Chavez.

“He was a great man. I still look at his picture, I have a lot of them around here,” she said, referring to the photo atop her desk.

Chapa Mendoza is the 16th recipient of the Kresge Eminent Artist award that recognizes an artist with a distinguished record of high-quality work and professional achievement in the arts, and a lifetime of contributions to their art forms and to the cultural community of metro Detroit.

Philanthropic interest in child welfare leads to a long-standing partnership with the Methodist Children’s Home Society and the development of The Children’s Village in 1927

March 22, 2024

The care of children has been a primary interest of the Kresge family and homes for children have been major beneficiaries of The Kresge Foundation from its inception.

One of the foundation’s earliest examples of this is its long-established relationship with the Methodist Children’s Home Society (MCHS) of Detroit, which was founded in 1917.

A large administration building in the English Tudor style
The first grant to the Methodist Children’s Society helped buy the land for the Children’s Village and build the administration building.

Anna Kresge, wife of Sebastian Kresge, was instrumental in helping MCHS after a deadly epidemic of influenza hit the city in 1918-19 that left many children without parents. She and others helped the organization buy and then build homes for children without families or that came from broken homes.

In 1927, the MCHS approached Kresge with an ambitious project that was designed to improve the care of children by providing surroundings that provided a residential home versus the standard institutional settings of the time.

One of the foundation’s first large grants of $225,000 was made that year to MCHS for the purchase of 28 acres of land and the construction of a new children’s home — Children’s Village in Redford, Michigan. The campus would consist of small cottage units that could house eight children and housemothers in a family-type setting that were designed to help meet the social, emotional, academic, physical and spiritual needs of children.

The foundation also pledged $50,000 a year for 10 years – $250,000 for operating expenses and $250,000 to establish an endowment.

A large English Tudor-style building
Kresge Hall at the Children’s Village

The Children’s Village campus was designed in the English Tudor style and welcomed its first children in 1929. Kresge funding helped build an administration building, Kresge Hall elementary school, a chapel and a camp.

In total, Kresge has awarded 39 grants to the Methodist Children’s Home Society of more than $3.5 million.

The organization continues to operate to this day and is now called the MCHS Family of Services and offers programs for foster care, child abuse prevention, residential treatment, clinical therapy and more.

Kresge continues to provide support today. In 2022, the Human Services Program awarded MCHS a $150,000 grant for general operating support.

By David Carrig, Kresge Foundation 

Early focus on work with young people results in first six-figure grant to the YMCA in 1926

March 14, 2024

In the early years, the primary interests of The Kresge Foundation were focused on supporting organizations that were concerned with education, religion, care of children and aged people, health and work promoting youth development programs.

A vintage postcard of a 5-stroy Detroit YMCA building.
Photo: Vintage YMCA Detroit postcard

As stated in an early foundation report, it was the view of Sebastian S. Kresge that organizations engaged in work among young people “afford one of the most effective means for building good character and making good citizens in the broadest sense of the term.”

So it makes sense that an early benefactor of Kresge’s grantmaking was the Detroit Y.M.C.A. (Young Men’s Christian Association), which received the foundation’s first six-figure grant of $100,000 in 1926 for its building fund. Equal amounts were added in three successive years for a total of $400,000.

Over the years, the foundation has awarded more than $96 million to YMCA and YWCA chapters in the United States and in Canada, Mexico, South America and South Korea.

The vast majority of these grants were capital challenge grants for the construction, expansion and renovation of hundreds of YMCA and YWCA buildings across the U.S. It provided funds for dormitories, gymnasiums, pools, camps, chapels, youth centers, student leadership programs and equipment.

A black and white photo of several swimmers diving into a pool.
The YMCA chapter in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, received a capital challenge grant in 1967.

As the YMCA continued to expand globally, Kresge awarded a $25,000 grant in 1958 to replace a facility destroyed in Seoul, South Korea, during the Korean War eight years earlier. The foundation also awarded a five-year, $5 million grant to the YMCA of the USA International in 2005 for the Kresge Mexico Philanthropy Development Initiative.

Kresge’s early grants often included work in youth development. Another key grantee was the Boy Scouts of America , which has been awarded nearly $10 million in grants in support of its mission “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”

By David Carrig, Kresge Foundation 

Honoring Kresge’s pioneering women leaders during Women’s History Month

March 7, 2024

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday and Women’s History Month throughout March, I am vividly reminded of, and feel tremendous gratitude to, the many women who have contributed – and continue to contribute – their leadership, voice, knowledge and heart to the mission of the foundation and to their communities.

Today, that looks like Lois DeBacker, Raquel Hatter, Wendy Lewis Jackson, Monica Valdes Lupi, Regina Smith and Chantel Rush Tebbe leading six of our eight Program teams as managing directors. It looks like Vice President Amy Robinson, General Counsel Zenna Elhasan and Chief People Officer Jennifer Jaramillo of our Executive Team — not to mention so many others. And of course, our Board Chair Cecilia Muñoz, leading the way for the entire organization.

As you might imagine, it hasn’t always been this way.

Barbara Getz
Barbara Getz

For the first eight decades of the foundation’s existence, the organization had few staff. In fact, it wasn’t until 1981 that the first program officer was appointed. Barbara Getz, who joined Kresge just a few years earlier as a research assistant, would serve as a program officer and senior program officer through 1996, with increasing responsibility for evaluating and recommending. She was the first woman to serve in that role at Kresge.

As the global HIV/AIDS epidemic spread through the country in the 1980s, Barbara became increasingly frustrated that her Michigan philanthropy peers were not intervening. She took matters into her own hands and led the creation of the Michigan AIDS Fund Committee within the Council of Michigan Foundations – becoming a national model for funder collaboration in an area where there was little knowledge or experience.

Margaret Taylor Smith
Margaret Taylor Smith

The Kresge Board of Trustees was comprised only of men for the first 61 years of the foundation’s existence. Finally in 1985, they appointed a self-described “professional volunteer,” Margaret Taylor Smith, to the board. She served for 12 years, the last three of which as Kresge’s first female Board chair. When selected by Crain’s Detroit Business for their 1997 Most Influential Women list, Margaret told the publication, “We all need something to define ourselves other than being somebody’s wife, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mother, and we have to define for ourselves something unique to ourselves.”

Following her retirement from the Kresge board, Margaret helped found, and then chair, the Council on Women’s Studies at her alma mater, Duke University. She also led and contributed to a $1 million campaign to create the Margaret Taylor Smith Endowed Directorship for Women’s Studies at Duke. “Feminism is that ‘F’ word, but the ‘F’ word is really fear. Feminism really means nothing more than a level playing field,” Margaret once noted.

Margaret remained a close observer of Kresge’s work until her passing in 2018, at the age of 93. After I was appointed president of Kresge in 2006, she wrote and called a number of times to encourage us on our path of transition. She was profoundly proud of the capital challenge grant era over which she had presided, but her calls were full of praise for the thoughtfulness of our movement toward a more diversified, strategic approach.

Jill Ker Conway
Jill Ker Conway

It’s difficult to imagine anyone better suited to carry on Margaret’s commitment to feminism than her successor as Board chair, Jill Ker Conway. Jill joined the board in 1988 and served as a trustee for more than a decade. A native of Australia who moved to the United States in 1960, she wrote three acclaimed memoirs, among other books. At age 40, she became the first female president of Smith College, and held the position for 10 years. In 2013 she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.

I had the enormous privilege of a long lunch with Jill shortly after I arrived in 2006. It was a tutorial in good governance, organizational redesign and the imperative of institutions connecting with their host community. Reflecting on that conversation and my many conversations with Margaret, I don’t think either of them would be surprised that today women make up more than 70% of Kresge staff and two-thirds of trustees. And they would very likely have been unsurprised that I would have the immeasurable privilege of serving under three women Board Chairs with many of the same qualities that made Jill and Margaret so remarkable: Irene Inouye Hirano, Elaine Rosen and now Cecilia Muñoz.

By Rip Rapson, Kresge Foundation President & CEO 

Capital Challenge grant spotlight: Clarke School for the Deaf received Kresge’s first capital challenge grant in 1929

March 6, 2024

For the first 80 years, the majority of Kresge’s grants awarded took the form of capital challenge grants that were made on the condition that the requesting nonprofit would raise a stipulated amount from other donors.

A young child is smiling and reaching out in a 1968 black-and-white photo from the Clarke School for the Deaf
1968 photo courtesy of Clarke School for the Deaf

In 1929, the foundation made its first capital challenge grant to the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, for $5,000, provided that the school raised $2 million.

Through 1992, the Clarke School earned six additional capital challenge grants from Kresge for a total of $621,000 that helped support the construction of a dormitory, infirmary, physical education center and several building renovation projects.

The Clarke School for the Deaf was founded in 1867 and began offering residential educational services for children who were deaf or hard of hearing. Today, the school, now called the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, aims to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing succeed at all stages of life and serves more than 1,000 children and their families annually at five sites along the East Coast.

Kresge has made more than 10,000 capital challenge grants during its 100-year history and has awarded more than $3 billion through a grantmaking model that has helped build the nation’s nonprofit infrastructure through the construction of libraries, hospitals, schools, museums, community centers and other facilities.

By David Carrig, Kresge Foundation

Black History Month offers chance to remember Kresge’s first Black trustee, Robert Storey
Robert Storey, third from left in back row, was the foundation’s first Black trustee, elected to the board in 1993. This picture shows the 2008 board members, including President and CEO Rip Rapson, front row, second from left.

Feb. 22, 2024

Robert “Bob” Storey joined Kresge’s board in 1993 and served as the first Black trustee of the foundation.

Storey, a lawyer by trade, brought to the board governance experience in nonprofits and higher education and knowledge of urban planning and politics. He had previously served on the Cleveland Planning Commission. He was only the second person nominated to the board from outside Michigan; born in Tuskegee, Alabama, Storey resided in Ohio. 

While serving on the board, Storey took part in decisions to alter term limitations for trustees and planned for how to continue the Kresge family involvement past then-Trustee Bruce Kresge. A Kresge family member has served on the board continuously in the years since.

Storey also supported two special initiatives: The Detroit and HBCU initiatives. The first propelled Kresge to take a more strategic grantmaking approach in the city and expand its work there. 

“My own view,” Storey said in a 2014 interview, “was that the foundation should identify more with Detroit to be a catalyst for the life of Detroit. We could do more… Detroit is one of those American cities that’s too important to become a nonentity, too important to be allowed to just disappear.”

The HBCU Initiative helped these colleges and universities grow their endowments, making them more sustainable.  

“I think this gave our staff a broader-gauge experience, having these non-bricks-and-mortar opportunities,” he said. “So we were always on the lookout for something that would benefit the perspective of our staff.”

Storey also played a part in helping Kresge expand its internal investment function, and he was on the board when it sought a new leader for the foundation in 2006, ultimately hiring current President and CEO Rip Rapson. 

“A new executive could not receive a warmer, more supportive welcome than what Bob extended to me,” Rapson said. ”I’ll always remember spending time with Bob and Nita, his wife, both at their home in Cleveland and their second home in St. Augustine; we spent hours talking about his career, his commitment to Cleveland, his passion for Detroit, and his aspirations for how the Kresge Foundation might adapt its traditional approaches to reach more people in need.

“The conversations were a combination of masterclass, tutorial and new employee orientation. And he did it with abiding humility, grace and good humor. Bob’s influence endures in our commitment to sound and creative governance practices, our embrace of Detroit, our support for HBCUs, and our efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. He was an exemplary Board member and is an even more exemplary human being.”

By Krista Jahnke, Kresge Foundation