«Director of the clevelanD founDation 1974 to 1983 Foundations operate best when they work at the growing edge of knowledge, when they uncover and ...»
the PeoPle’s entrePreneur
Homer C. Wadsworth
Director of the clevelanD founDation 1974 to 1983
Foundations operate best when they work at the growing
edge of knowledge, when they uncover and support
talent interested in finding new ways of dealing with old
problems, when they experiment in the grants they make
and the people they support.
– Homer C. Wadsworth
Text Diana Tittle, with research and writing assistance by Dennis Dooley
Copyediting Lisa Semelsberger McGreal Design Stacy Vickroy Lithography Master Printing, Cleveland The People’s Entrepreneur Most of the good things that I have seen in foundations came out of the fact that there were some people at a given time and a given place who had an idea and some guts. – HCW 2 W aiting in the reception area of the Cleveland Foundation, Doris Evans prepared herself to be rejected yet again. The pediatrician had conceived of a new not-for- profit enterprise for which she was seeking charitable seed dollars. Along with several other African-American physicians, Dr. Evans wanted to start a health care clinic in Glenville, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. This was not to be a typical walk-in clinic, with babies screaming in a dingy reception area while their parents waited hours upon end to be seen by the first available doctor. Such practice flew in the face of the common-sense principle that health problems are more effectively diagnosed and treated by a physician familiar with the medical history of a patient, and Evans, a 31-year-old activist who had dreamed of becoming a doctor since the age of four, envisioned a medical facility that would redress the situation.
Glenville Health Association was to be a privately owned, not-for-profit clinic offering cradle- to-grave care of such excellence, in an atmosphere of such professionalism and cleanliness, that it would attract the affluent as well as the indigent. Each patient, no matter what his or her financial status, would be assigned to a personal physician, seen on an appointment basis, and treated with respect and dignity.
Evans and her colleagues needed to raise $2 million to launch, equip, and subsidize the operation of the clinic until it became self-supporting. The year was 1974, and $2 million was a considerable sum of money – but not (as Evans had tried to persuade the representatives of numerous other foundations) in comparison with the long-term societal costs of failing to provide some of the community’s most vulnerable citizens with preventive medical care. Her arguments never seemed to penetrate the hauteur of those in a position to enable a test of her promising new concept of health care delivery for the indigent. Time after time, Evans had passionately laid out her plans, only to be quizzed about the reasons why she had failed to dot this I or cross that T.
Ultimately dismissed with instructions to go back and rewrite her grant proposal, she had left each of her meetings with potential funders feeling discouraged but not defeated.
Being ushered into the presence of Homer Wadsworth, the 60-year-old director of the Cleveland Foundation, was like emerging from a cave into the spring air. Evans immediately sensed that this was a man with a joyful heart, a person who relished the possibilities of life.
The director of the country’s first and oldest community foundation had a genuine smile, and the merry twinkle in his eyes lit up the room. Although he was the gatekeeper of a $140 million charitable endowment1 built from the gifts of Greater Clevelanders who wished their savings or wealth to be used to improve the quality of life in the community, Wadsworth did not adopt the wary attitude of a person who fears his pockets are about to be picked. He 3
1. The Cleveland Foundation’s assets now surpass $1.9 billion, making it the country’s third-largest community trust.
greeted Evans warmly. His graciousness immediately set her at ease and made her feel as if he considered her a peer.
Wadsworth’s unfailing sociability was at one with his genuine liking for people.
Norman Krumholz, a former City of Cleveland planning director who worked as a special consultant to the Cleveland Foundation in the early 1980s, vividly remembers the time he arranged for a group of neighborhood organizers and residents to confer with the foundation’s director about a grant proposal. Lacking money for babysitters, some of the women brought their children to the meeting. Taking no apparent note of the youngsters’ grubby hands and faces, Wadsworth led the assembly into the foundation’s conference room, where he poured coffee for the adults and dispensed pop and pastries to the children. He might have magically plucked a quarter from behind a youngster’s ear (one of his many ice-breaking skills) before getting down to business. Be of good cheer – an inscription, frequently incised on ancientworld tombstones, that Wadsworth invariably quoted when taking his leave of a friend or a gathering – was advice that he himself took to heart.
During his conference with Doris Evans, Wadsworth displayed little interest in examining the minutia of her proposal. An avid conversationalist who was always on the hunt for the cutting-edge of knowledge in the field at hand, he instead set about exploring her ideas for ensuring the clinic’s success in the long term. The collegial discussion served to restore Evans’s shaken confidence and enlarge her thinking about the challenges ahead.
From the distance of more than 30 intervening years, Doris Evans can no longer remember whether Wadsworth folded and unfolded his glasses or lightly drummed his fingers on his desk, as was his habit, while he pondered her request for financial assistance. Nor does she recall if, at the conclusion of their meeting, he leaned back in his chair, placed his hands behind his head in trademark fashion, and said, in a folksy twang born of the previous quarter-century he had spent as the director of an association of small private foundations in Kansas City, Mo.: “I think we can do something about that.” (Wadsworth’s Cleveland colleagues dubbed these signature lines and down-home verities “Homerisms.”) Evans does, however, remember another telling expression of the foundation director’s essential decency and humanity: his statement of pleasure that she had given the Cleveland Foundation the privilege of participating in her important endeavor.
The foundation’s board of directors subsequently awarded the Glenville Health Association a grant of several hundred thousand dollars. This was far from the largest or most important grant Wadsworth had ever recommended, but the resounding vote of confidence helped Evans and her colleagues raise the remaining funds needed to open the clinic’s doors in 1974. As promised, the facility was able to offer Glenville residents comprehensive medical, 4 dental, and mental health care, regardless of their ability to pay. As hoped, the high quality of the clinic’s services also attracted those who could afford to be choosy about their health care providers. Nearly 20 percent of the clientele came from outside the immediate neighborhood, a base of support that allowed the clinic to continue its charitable work in Glenville for more than 15 years.
What had Homer Wadsworth seen in this particular proposal that other grantmakers had missed? A talent scout with few equals, Wadsworth had seen the leadership potential of Doris Evans, interim associate dean of student affairs at the medical school of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He had recognized her intelligence, her commitment to social justice, her entrepreneurial drive – qualities that would ultimately lead to her promotion to clinical professor of pediatrics at the medical school.
A “Renaissance man” (a description bestowed by U.S. Senator and former Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich), Wadsworth had immediately appreciated the promise of Evans’s plans. His enthusiasm was all the more remarkable in light of the fact that he had recently engineered the transformation of After being turned away by the entire health care system in Kansas City, yet he did not let several other philanthropies, the Glenville Health Association the dazzling nature of that accomplishment blind him to the received a Cleveland Foundation merits of what by comparison was a miniscule project. The grant to start a model clinic Glenville Health Association might not have been a sure bet to for the indigent (pictured here).
A talent scout with few equals, become the next Cleveland Clinic, but he recognized that its Wadsworth had recognized the operation would surely teach Greater Cleveland something new founding physicians’ potential for about how to combat the damaging physical effects of multi- leadership and innovation.
generational poverty. And, as one of the philanthropic sector’s wisest practitioners, Wadsworth understood that it was his responsibility to take a chance on community entrepreneurs – “people who can be counted on to do things,” as he liked to say – and new ideas, especially those that promised to stimulate positive social change or provoke needed civic action.
Wadsworth liked to play the role of bumblebee, using insights gained in one field to inform another.
6 F ar earlier than most of his professional peers, Wadsworth had seen that community foundations must move beyond the passive role of responsive grantmaker if they were truly to become a force for social progress. Having served as a municipal government administrator during the 1930s, he knew that the problems besetting American cities could not be lessened, let alone overcome, by the time-honored philanthropic practice of supporting the routine activities of favored charities. Dispensing philanthropic dollars to help not-for-profits “pay the light bill” (as he once styled it) merely perpetuated the status quo. Wadsworth believed that foundations have the luxury of taking the long view – of looking beyond immediate needs to see the long-term possibilities. A man of no great wealth of his own, he was determined to ensure that the approximately hundred million charitable dollars whose spending he was to direct during his 35 years in the philanthropic sector – to say nothing of the hundreds of millions of additional investments leveraged by his grantmaking activities – went to causes that mattered most to people: improvements in health care and education and city governance; increased economic vitality; and enhanced access to nature and the arts.
“Every community is always in the midst of change,” Wadsworth once stated, “of becoming something new, of adding something to its inheritance.” Community-building was his holy grail, and the family of man was his church. Wadsworth was so single-minded – and so successful – in his pursuit of fresh opportunities for his fellow citizens that a close associate in Kansas City, Hallmark Corp. executive Nathan Stark, was once prompted to describe his lifelong friend, indelibly, as the “people’s entrepreneur.” As president of the Kansas City Association of Trusts and Foundations from 1949 to 1974 and then as director of the Cleveland Foundation from 1974 through 1983, Homer C.
Wadsworth propelled the postwar re-invention of each city. In Kansas City (to elaborate on one example of his widespread influence), he galvanized the civic consensus and secured the governmental funding needed to overhaul the community’s inequitable and underfunded public health system. The ingredients of his success were hard data and research, strategically planted suggestions, deftly timed seed grants, his personal charm, and keen instincts for negotiation.
During his decade in Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation supported or launched many of the initiatives that underpinned what Clevelanders came to think of as the renaissance of the city in the 1990s. Under Wadsworth’s visionary and energetic direction, the foundation helped Cleveland peacefully prepare for desegregation of the public schools, return from default, revitalize Playhouse Square, reclaim its industrialized waterfront as a recreational asset, 7 strengthen and expand its arts institutions, and develop the capacity to analyze and act on regional and national socioeconomic trends.
In the process of enabling Kansas City and Cleveland to move boldly forward, Wadsworth enlarged the sense of mission and possibility of his peers in the foundation world.
Watching the “people’s entrepreneur” at work – helping to outline the civic agenda in Kansas City, providing politically astute leadership in Cleveland, contributing in both cities to the strengthening of critical institutions and the solution of urban problems – was to be convinced of the strategic role a community foundation could play. By embracing and effectively carrying out such then-untraditional roles as convener, educator, program manager, and venture capitalist, the philanthropies led by Wadsworth helped to define a model of civic activism and establish standards of excellence for community foundations in this country and abroad.
Wadsworth also helped to shape philanthropic policy and professional standards at the national level, especially in his promotion of the then-heretical principles of accountability and full reporting. (The Kansas City Association of Trusts and Foundations had blazed the trail by voluntarily making annual reports to an appropriate court of record.) Wadsworth helped to create the Council on Foundations, the Independent Sector, and the Foundation Center’s network of regional libraries and later served either as a board member of or a trusted advisor to these influential advocacy and support organizations. Even in retirement, he The foundation invested more than $1 million during Wadsworth’s tenure in a grass-roots campaign to defuse the tensions arising from court-ordered desegregation of the public schools. Cleveland avoided the violence that greeted the first day of busing in other big cities.
Under Wadsworth, the foundation supported or launched many of the initiatives underpinning the renaissance of Cleveland in the 1990s – from the efforts of Mayor George Voinovich (left) to wrest city government from default to plans to revitalize Playhouse Square (right).
extended philanthropy’s reach, as a consultant on the creation or development of community foundations in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and St. Croix in the Virgin Islands.