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FACF recognizes local philanthropists

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Speakers at the Fremont Area Community Foundation banquet squinted under a bright light cast in their direction.

But while the intense light illuminated the podium, the real spotlight was on area residents who’ve donated to help people throughout their communities.

Approximately 180 people attended the Tuesday night event at Fremont Golf Club for the foundation which since 1980 has made grants totaling more than $40 million to address local needs and causes.

Chris Leaver, a retirement advisor and partner with RetirePath Advisors (previously Thrivent) in Fremont, received the 2022 Professional Advisor of the Year Award.

Fremonters Charlie and Mary Lou Diers received the 2022 Betsy Mulliken Award for Philanthropy and Sid Dillon Jr. was recognized for his nine years of service on the FACF board of directors.

FACF Executive Director Melissa Diers said in the last year alone, the foundation has:

  • Reached more than $32 million in community assets.
  • Established 13 new funds designed to help improve life in the Fremont area, bringing the total number of funds to 220.
  • Awarded more than $319,000, through competitive grant making, to causes impacting community issues such as generational poverty, food insecurity and public safety. Grants also were awarded to enhance recreational opportunities, historic preservation efforts, literacy education and other endeavors.
  • Another 108 grants totaling $556,000 were provided to charitable work throughout the area through donor-advised funds, which the foundation administers.
  • Provided 156 scholarships totaling just under $178,000 to Fremont area students pursuing post-secondary education.
  • Spearheaded the sixth Fremont Area Big Give, which raised almost $400,000 for 70 area nonprofits in 24 hours. Since its inception, the Big Give has raised more than $2 million for charitable work throughout greater Dodge County.
  • Worked to inspire young people through its Youth Philanthropy Grants Program. Since the first contest in 2014, more than 430 youth from 11 area schools have been involved in projects designed to give back to their community.

FACF President Terry McClain said the organization has grown due to citizen support. He noted that professional advisers, who play a critical role in advancing philanthropy, have prompted conversations about charitable giving and planned gifts.

“By simply asking someone about their charitable interests, advisers encourage individuals to consider making philanthropy part of their financial planning and provide crucial expertise to do it effectively,” McClain said.

McClain said Leaver has provided technical expertise to donors and given his personal time to many area nonprofit organizations including Lutheran Family Services, Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity and Methodist Fremont Hospital Foundation.

Leaver coordinates First Lutheran Church’s “The Banquet,” which provides free, hot meals each Thursday to area families.

In 1996, Leaver and his wife, Mary Beth, launched the annual Holiday Food Drive at Low Income Ministry. The food drive continues today through Care Corps’ LifeHouse.

Leaver expressed gratitude for the recognition.

“This is truly a blessing and an honor,” Leaver said. “One of the joys of our career is to ask those who have entrusted us with their life savings to move from success to significance.”

He referred to the book of Matthew 25 in which Christ speaks of the eternal blessings that will come to those who help people in need.

Leaver spoke of the generosity he’s seen in Fremont.

“I’ve literally seen it in action,” he said.

Leaver thanked his family and work team for their support.

McClain said the Mulliken award is given in memory of a woman who served as FACF executive director from 1998-2006.

“This award recognizes an individual, family or organization who has a distinguished record as a philanthropic leader whether through volunteerism, financial resources or both,” McClain said.

FACF gives a $1,000 gift on the recipients’ behalf to the charity of their choice.

Charlie and Mary Lou Diers donated 20 acres of family farmland for one of Nebraska’s largest Catholic parishes, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

“They were lead donors and fundraisers for building the church and adjacent elementary school,” McClain said. “Additional land surrounding the church is being developed as part of a long-term plan to help Fremont grow.”

For the past 51 years, the Diers have donated a new vehicle to the annual St. Patrick’s Fun Festival, raising more than $1 million.

The Diers are longtime supporters of numerous organizations including FACF, Midland University, Fremont Area United Way, Fremont Family YMCA, Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity, Keene Memorial Library and Fremont Health Foundation.

Charlie Diers is a founding member of FACF and the Greater Fremont Development Council. He and Mary Lou are members of the foundation’s Legacy Society.

“Many in the Fremont area — organizations and individuals alike — are indebted to you both for your leadership and generosity,” McClain said.

The FACF recognized Sid Dillon Jr., who is stepping down after serving for nine years on the organization’s board.

Caryl Johannsen, FACF secretary-treasurer, said board members commit to three-year terms, but many have completed additional terms.

“Sid joined the foundation board in 2013, but has been an avid supporter of the foundation for decades,” Johannsen said.

During his time on the board, Dillon served on the investment committee, the Schilke Trust Supporting Organization Committee and as chair of the Youth Philanthropy Contest Committee.

“He followed in the steps of his parents, Hazel and Sid Sr., who both served on foundation boards going back to 1988,” Johannsen said.

Legacy Society members were recognized. These are people who’ve provided for the foundation through their estate plans.

The Legacy Society has 255 members.

In her remarks, Melissa Diers talked about the importance of philanthropy.

“The government sector does what it has the public will to do — as it should,” Diers said. “The business sector does what it can profit from — as it should. The charitable sector tries to do everything else.”

Diers commended local and area donors.

“Here at home, that generosity and understanding of the pivotal role philanthropy plays in a vibrant community has been on full display,” Diers said. “We’ve pulled together and we’ve given together — our time, our talents and our treasure. Philanthropy at its best.”


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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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