1986...Ronald Reagan was President, a gallon of gas set you back $.89, and Chernobyl was irradiated. The A-Team was popular on TV while The Karate Kid, Part II lit up the big screen. A nation watched, horrified, as the space shuttle Challenger exploded. IBM unveiled the first laptop computer. And the Northland Foundation came into being.
In the first half of the 1980s, northeastern Minnesota along with rest of the country was mired in a deep recession. Family farms went bankrupt, plants shut down, and mining layoffs drove unemployment beyond 20 percent in some Iron Range communities.
“McKnight realized that our state is far too diverse for across-the-board solutions and that leadership in Greater Minnesota had to come from within.”
~Tom Renier, Northland Foundation President
It was the troubled circumstances of Minnesota’s outlying communities that inspired The McKnight Foundation, the state’s largest private foundation, to create the Minnesota Initiative Funds. Six rural, regionally based foundations – among them the Northeastern Minnesota Initiative Fund (now the Northland Foundation) – could provide McKnight with eyes, ears, and feet on the ground in Greater Minnesota. McKnight supplied the new ‘initiative funds’ not only with resources but also with the freedom to address local issues in different ways. All six foundations have grown into powerful catalysts for good, each as unique as its respective rural region.
Tom Renier, founding president of the Northland Foundation, was in on the ground floor. His background in economic development and business finance, along with others who were charged with making initial recommendations to McKnight, was reflected in the form this new breed of philanthropic organization eventually took. The region’s great economic needs in the 1980s led to Northland Foundation becoming engaged not only in making grants but also lending to small businesses and providing direct services of its own.
“McKnight realized that our state is far too diverse for across-the-board solutions and that leadership in Greater Minnesota had to come from within,” recounts Renier. “It’s been a privilege to be part of the Northland Foundation’s evolution and the relationships we have built along the way.”
“Our mission is met only with the help of trustees, donors, and critical partners.”
The Northland Foundation's 25th anniversary will play a visible role in our communications with friends, colleagues, and stakeholders over the next 12 months. The silver celebration offers a perfect opportunity to remember historical turning points, thank steadfast supporters, and explore avenues such as planned gifts and program sponsorships that will contribute to the vitality of northeastern Minnesota in years to come.
“Our mission is met only with the help of trustees, donors, and critical partners such as The McKnight Foundation, Blandin Foundation, Minnesota Power, and SMDC Health System,” explained Renier, “along with many community members, businesses, and nonprofit organizations across the region and state.”
We invite you to join us in marking this milestone and setting our collective sights on the future.