Donor Stories

Please enjoy three donor stories below. Donors who willingly share with us how they achieved their philanthropic goals. Each individual donor receives our full gratitude and deep appreciation. Thank you to our philanthropic partners!

“I wanted to do what I could now to make sure that our Community Foundation has what it needs in the future.”

Sarah Johnson’s Dedication Grows with Community Foundation

“I wanted to do what I could now to make sure that our Community Foundation has what it needs in the future.”

When the Community Foundation of Tompkins County was created in 2000, Sarah Johnson was so impressed with the organization that she became one of its early donors.

“I thought it was a really exciting idea,” says Johnson, who had moved to Ithaca to earn a graduate degree in human development at Cornell. “It is a way, if you’re attached to a community, for like-minded people to band together. They are more powerful if they’re together than if they’re apart.”

After working as a lab manager at the College of Human Ecology at Cornell, Johnson was hired as director of operations for the former Women’s Community Building, where she became more aware of the role the Community Foundation plays in Tompkins County. During the eight years she held that position, she interacted with many local nonprofit organizations that rented space in the Women’s Community Building.

“So many of the nonprofits held events at the building,” Johnson says. “I became immersed in that world and I learned a lot about it.’

A few years after Johnson bought a house downtown, her sister, Gwyn Lymberis, joined her, moving to Ithaca from Buffalo. The two sisters grew to love Ithaca and decided to name the Community Foundation in their estate plans.

“It is a secure way to deal with the distribution of assets in our estates,” Johnson says. “There are so many worthwhile organizations that we have given money and time to over many years that we weren’t sure how to allocate the funds. Nonprofits may come and go, but we have complete confidence that Community Foundation will use our bequest well because they are so in touch with community needs.”

They also created the Johnson Sisters Fund, now part of Community Foundation’s Today and Tomorrow Fund, which has supported more than 30 organizations since its inception in 2003. A portion of the fund also defrays the operational expenses of Community Foundation.

“Somebody has to pay for salaries and overhead,” Johnson says. “I’m perfectly happy to have money I’ve donated used to help ensure Community Foundation’s continued operation.”

Other issues Johnson is concerned about include equity for women and girls and rural poverty. “There are families who have lived here a long time and a lot of them are struggling, especially those in rural areas,” she says.

In 2018, Johnson made a new investment to the Community Foundation Pooled Income Fund. Her donation, which provides her with quarterly income, will revert to Community Foundation upon the death of both Johnson and her sister.

“We live in very uncertain times,” she says. “I wanted to do what I could now to make sure that our Community Foundation has what it needs in the future.”

A former president of the Ithaca branch of the American Association of University Women, Johnson has enjoyed living in Ithaca and believes that donating to the Community Foundation is one way to give back. “It’s been a joy and a privilege to live here, and I’ve been fortunate enough that I haven’t suffered economically,” she says. “I’ve almost always had more than enough to get by and would like that to be true for everyone in our small corner of the world.”


Phil and Mary Lu McPheron Donor Advisors and Volunteers

The Art of Becoming Informed Donors

Phil and Mary Lu McPheron Donor Advisors and Volunteers

For Phil and Mary Lu McPheron, philanthropy is a family affair.

When more than 30 requests for funding were made to the Community Foundation of Tompkins County in November, the McPherons consulted with their daughters — both of whom now live in the Washington, D.C. area — to determine if and where they should donate.

After assessing the requests and asking for more information, they all chose a nonprofit they had never heard of — the Free Science Workshop, which was launching a science night for families in Ithaca that would include a nutritious meal and an interactive science project.

“The kids and parents could attend a workshop and build something, which would promote interaction in the family,” says Phil, a retired administrator at Cornell University and a board member at Community Foundation. “And it was particularly devoted to kids who might not have the resources to do that.”

The McPherons were able to help meet the funding request of the Free Science Workshop largely because of the donor-advised fund they created at Community Foundation in 2017. Their fund, one of 64 such funds at Community Foundation, allows donors to contribute money and distribute it over time to causes they choose.

Their Community Foundation donor advised fund enables them to be more actively engaged in grant making because it gives them direct access to needs.

“We are informed by the Community Foundation of requests in as well as out of cycle, and we can pick and choose what we want to fund,” says Mary Lu, a retired senior extension associate at Cornell who is a committee member for the Children and Youth Fund at the Community Foundation.

Both Phil and Mary Lu were influenced by the charitable giving of their mothers when they were growing up in Northern New Jersey. Throughout each year, their mothers would write checks to charitable organizations, including their churches.

Phil, however, wanted to broaden that model into philanthropic giving and creating change, which is a more wholistic approach toward supporting communities. “We ask ourselves, “How can we help as donors to strengthen our community by promoting people, organizations and resources while making our efforts more coherent and effective?” he says.

Creating connections to nonprofit organizations that need help in Tompkins County is one of the advantages Community Foundation provides to donors, says Amy LeViere, philanthropic services officer for Community Foundation.

“We hear over and over again how much donors value the connections they make through Community Foundation,” LeViere says. “As a catalyst, we often provide the space and the connections sparking the fire of philanthropy.”

By establishing the McPheron Family Fund, the couple created a vehicle in which their two daughters could engage in philanthropy in the community where they were raised in addition to aiding charitable efforts in the United States and around the world. Their daughters — Heather, a health program and policy manager for L&M Consulting, and Alicia, a hospitality banquet manager at a Marriott Renaissance Hotel — were encouraged by their parents to save a portion of their allowance for charity when they were attending Northeast Elementary School.

“We said, ‘We want you to save 10 percent of your allowance to give to charitable efforts,’ ” Mary Lu says. “By starting early, we modeled a legacy that we thought was important.”

Before becoming involved in Community Foundation five years ago, Phil was a member of the board of United Way of Tompkins County and Mary Lu was a member of the board of Family and Children’s Services.

Through Community Foundation, they have made gifts to support the Community Foundation’s operations, the discretionary Tompkins Today and Tomorrow Fund, and other nonprofits such as The History Center, and Finger Lakes Land Trust. They also donate to national organizations such as Americans for Responsible Solutions, the organization that supports gun control, founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly.

Their other interests have included promoting environmental, wildlife, and conservation efforts, supporting education, leadership, and civic responsibility at all age levels, alleviating hunger and housing problems, funding the arts and humanities, and helping provide micro loans to women in impoverished areas.

“We spread our giving because we have diverse interests and see so many diverse needs,” Phil says. “One can make an argument that you would have more of an impact if you pull your money together and put it all in one place. But it feels better to us to know that we’re supporting many efforts. We want to help with the problem of food insecurity so we do so through the Food Bank of the Southern Tier and Loaves and Fishes. We’re correlating our interests with where we see we can have an impact and make a difference.”

For more information on giving opportunities, please contact Nancy Massicci, Chief Development Officer, or 607-272-9333, ext. 205.

Partnering with the Community Foundation to Support a Family Legacy of Serving and Giving

Three Generations of Giving

Partnering with the Community Foundation to Support a Family Legacy of Serving and Giving

George Ridenour, Community Foundation board member from 2005 through 2010, loved spending a summer evening sitting on the lawn of the Danby Federated Church listening to the Ithaca Concert Band perform the Stars and Stripes Forever and his favorite Broadway show tunes.

“George would close his eyes while listening to the band and tell me it sounded like the Boston Pops,” said his wife, Jeanette Shady.

At the end of last year’s summer concert series, Mr. Ridenour said he wanted to make a gift to the band from the family’s charitable fund, managed by Community Foundation of Tompkins County. Tragically, two months later, Mr. Ridenour died of a rare, sudden-onset brain disease.

Jeanette and their daughter, Sarah Ridenour, co-donor advisors of the fund, carried through with his wishes and recently made a grant to the Ithaca Concert Band, the first gift made by Community Foundation to the ensemble.

Mr. Ridenour was an accomplished musician himself — he played the cornet, the piano and sang in the choir at the First Congregational Church in Cayuga Heights. He and Jeanette often attended the Ithaca Concert Band’s summer concerts and became band “groupies” when Sarah, a physical therapist at Schuyler Hospital, joined the band as a flutist in 2016.

“My father loved all musical genres, especially jazz, but he had a special place in his heart for the concert band, most likely because of the range of its repertoire, from orchestral pieces to popular music,” Sarah said.

In addition to the gift to the band, Sarah and Jeanette made grants in Mr. Ridenour’s memory to two other organizations he was passionate about — the First Congregational Church to create a garden in his memory; and the Catholic Community at Ithaca College to enhance an endowment fund established last year by Mr. Ridenour and Jeanette. Sarah earned a bachelor of science in clinical exercise science and a doctorate in physical therapy from Ithaca College.

The family’s donor-advised fund was established as one of Community Foundation’s first funds in 2002, by Mr. Ridenour’s father, Layel Ridenour, who had lived at Kendal with his wife, Nan Ridenour. “His father set the pace for family philanthropy — to always give back in service and treasure if the means exist to help people,” Jeanette said.

That devotion to philanthropy and service was passed on to Mr. Ridenour who, after graduating from Ohio State University in 1961, served in Laos with the International Voluntary Service and later with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Mr. Ridenour earned a master’s degree from Cornell in International Development and Southeast Asian Studies in 1971, and that same year, became director of admissions and student affairs at Cornell’s Graduate School of Business and Public Administration.

“George, like his father, wanted to instill that drive to serve and that philanthropic desire in his children,” Jeanette said. “He appointed Sarah a donor advisor of the family fund just last year and had so very much looked forward to their close collaboration.”

Jeanette, a former administrator at Cornell and in private industry, said she and Sarah are broadly discussing future plans for the family fund. “Our focus right now, however, is to finalize the gifts in George’s memory,” Jeanette said, “and then I will be excited to engage Sarah in the philanthropic legacy so firmly established by her grandfather and father.”

Community Foundation staff and board are inspired and deeply appreciative of the Ridenour-Shady family’s time, talent and treasure and extend their condolences.

quote Cesar Chavez

In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.