Culture shock surely must have hit young bride Jane Heard Clinton not long after her arrival to "Tulsee town" in the final years of the 19th century.
Her genteel Georgia upbringing no doubt clashed with the rough-and-tumble setting of Tulsa's early years.
Yet Clinton, wife of Dr. Fred Clinton, made her mark on Tulsa in the next few decades through a spirit of giving that suffused various clubs she helped create, said Michelle Place, executive director for the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.
The Ruskin Art Club "provided shoes for children who didn't have any," Place said; the Tuesday Book Club "decided that a library was needed, so they raised funds to establish one in the old courthouse," she added.
Modern giving now often involves foundations and trusts, with at times transformative effects (See "Big Gifts," p. 17). The number and size of such organizations (See "The Big List," p. 18) shows a large -- and diverse - commitment to philanthropy, but such efforts aren't exactly without precedent.
The discovery of oil near Tulsa led to fortune for Thomas Gilcrease, who founded Gilcrease Oil Company in 1922. But proof of his generosity exists in the form of the Gilcrease Museum, essentially founded as a collection of Gilcrease's private art collection, yet handed over as a gift to the city. Similarly, the Philbrook Museum was created when Waite Phillips -- of Phillips Petroleum fame -- donated his estate to Tulsa.
Another oil man, William G. Skelly, was once famously declared by the Oklahoma Legislature to be "Tulsa's greatest asset," earning the title through devotion to civic and charitable causes. He led the drive to purchase land for what would become Tulsa Municipal Airport and helped fund the TU football stadium. His generosity also comes through daily to listeners of KWGS 89.5 FM, TU's radio station. The station, funded by Skelly, has provided countless hours of entertainment and news since its foundation in 1947.
Tulsa's prominent families have been among the most generous. Joe LaFortune, who arrived in Tulsa after serving as a soldier in World War I, helped establish LaFortune Park and supported Memorial High School, TU, and prep school Cascia Hall, according to the Oklahoma Heritage Association. His son, former Mayor Robert LaFortune, led the city during the 1970s and also spearheaded the fundraising charge to build Tulsa's Performing Arts Center, among other philanthropic efforts, according to the University of Tulsa, which honored him in 2007 as an outstanding entrepreneur.
The Lorton family has operated the Tulsa World newspaper since 1917, and Eugene Lorton, who died in 1949, was an important business leader in the creation of the Spavinaw Lake project to provide a much-needed water supply for Tulsa. (Interestingly, he sparred with Charles Page, well-known for establishing homes for widows and orphans in addition to founding the town of Sand Springs; Page also owned newspapers, and the two had a legendary feud.) The World's current publisher, Robert "Bob" Lorton, and his wife, Roxana Rozsa Lorton, have donated heavily to the arts and to TU.
William K. Warren arrived in Tulsa in 1916, using bootstrap funding to start the Warren Petroleum Company. If wealth followed, so too did a desire to help his community, and Warren founded what is now the Saint Francis Health System. He also started a foundation bearing his name that is one of the oldest such entities in Tulsa.
In this way, giving became more structured, with foundations and trusts the norm. For example, the Chapman trusts devote millions to very specific causes. James A. Chapman -- described by the Oklahoma Historical Society as one of the state's "leading entrepreneurs" in the first half of the 20th century -- was considered one of the nation's wealthiest men before his death in 1966.
OURTESY MICHELLE HARDESTY
Now 13 trusts in the names of various family members make donations to sets of beneficiaries, which notably include the University of Tulsa.
The biggest name today in Tulsa giving is probably the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The foundation -- created by Kaiser, whose billions in wealth have been amassed in the oil and banking industries -- works with partners to improve seemingly intractable societal ills, like poverty.
As far as the inspiration to give, Ken Levit, the foundation's executive director, noted that George Kaiser's family fled Nazi-era Germany, "and Tulsa welcomed them here and provided a good home and community, and thus just there's the basic idea of giving back to the community."
The foundation has only been around since the late 1990s. Yet it is by far the largest individual private foundation in Tulsa, with assets totaling more than $4 billion. Its approach has been to establish partners who receive millions in support, such as the Community Action Project of Tulsa County, though the foundation funds park projects and helps women convicted of non-violent drug crimes, among several other well-coordinated projects.
The Kaiser Foundation formally exists to support the Tulsa Community Foundation. For donors giving to multiple charities, the Community Foundation offers many reasons for them to establish a foundation fund rather than give to a nonprofit directly, said Phil Lakin, Jr., the Community Foundation's chief executive officer.
Donors may want to give a large gift, but do so over a long time period, he said. With the foundation, donors can choose a variety of investment options to grow the money -- and the gift.
"Some people give us pretty substantial sums of money," Lakin said. Through the foundation, they get a quick tax deduction don't have to inundate a charitable organization with funds all at once, he said. The foundation also simplifies giving for people interested in making gifts to multiple charities, Lakin said.
"Our job is to manage and disburse philanthropic funds, and so that's what we're in the business of doing," Lakin said.
Phil Haney, a local attorney who focuses on helping nonprofits as well as foundations, said some large cities have multiple community foundations. If combined, these foundations in other cities would eclipse the asset totals of the Tulsa Community Foundation, he said.
ORAL ROBERTS UNIVERSITY
Its existence has definitely intensified the local spotlight on giving, however, Haney said. "That has encouraged giving that may not have existed before the start of the Tulsa Community Foundation," he said. Haney teaches a course on philanthropy at the University of Tulsa, and said Tulsa ranks highly in terms of giving on a per capita basis.
Lakin and Haney each stressed that Tulsa has a broad commitment to giving as a community. Lakin said the community foundation has trademarked the phrase "America's Most Generous City." For example, on Nov. 8, the Tulsa Area United Way will once again celebrate a successful fundraising drive. Last year, contributions from more than 1,500 participating companies and organizations and more than 50,000 individuals resulted in $24.7 million raised, with money distributed to various community charities.
"I think it perfectly describes what we have in Tulsa," Lakin said.
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