The Community Foundation is home to over 700 funds, thanks to the generosity of others. For decades, people in Newaygo County have partnered with us to impact a future they couldn’t predict simply because they love this community. Let’s take a look back to where it all started!
Our story began in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression when two visionary philanthropists changed the future of Newaygo County forever. A gift of $5,700 from the estate of Harry Williams established a fund to support the general well-being of Newaygo County. The same year, a bequest of $31,000 from Jacob Andrew Gerber was established to support charitable projects. In a period of crisis, their acts of generosity were both timely and timeless.
After Mattie Gerber, wife of Jacob Andrew, added to her husband’s fund in 1944, local attorney William J. Branstrom, well-known for his philanthropy and civic engagement, consolidated the funds from Harry Williams and the Gerbers with his own. With these funds, Branstrom—along with Frank Gerber, Horace Loomis, Dick Pikaart, and Herman Schuiteman—created a private foundation called the Fremont Foundation in 1951.
Bessie Slautterback, a tenacious special education teacher, was hired as Executive Secretary—or what we might call today the executive director—and became our first employee. Intelligent and relentless, she led the Foundation for over two decades. She championed arts and education and worked to build community support.
In 1972, we reorganized to become a public community foundation in response to changing tax laws and a continuing desire to serve the whole county. From 1972 to 1994, our assets grew from $10 million to $65 million, and we granted approximately $2.5 million annually to organizations and programs at work in Newaygo County.
In 1994, Gerber Products, Inc. was sold to Sandoz of Switzerland. Our organization, which owned 1.8 million shares of Gerber stock, saw its assets grow from $65 million to $109 million virtually overnight.
Another important milestone six years later reflected our continuing commitment to the community as a whole. In 2000, the Foundation changed its name to Fremont Area Community Foundation, emphasizing its goal to serve all of Newaygo County.
What began with modest charitable funds in 1933 has grown to become one of the largest community foundations in the U.S. on a per capita basis and the fourth largest in Michigan based on total assets. Our history is built with this kind of forward-looking generosity. Through the Community Foundation’s careful stewardship and investment, the generous gifts of countless community members, from 1933 until today, will continue to grow and serve our area forever. We look forward to celebrating our 75th anniversary in 2026 and are excited to share this important milestone with you!