History of the Virginia Community Foundation

It all began with a walk around Baileys’ Lake. Local resident Marieta Johnson and a friend were appalled by the amount of debris around the lake. Marieta applied for a $500 grant from a local bank to fund the first Baileys’ Lake clean-up event.

Inspired to build philanthropic resources to better the community, Marieta, who became an employee of the Northland Foundation in 1988, sought support from the city of Virginia to start an endowment fund. A development committee was formed made up of local leaders. Among them were Beverly Bonner, Elder Metsa, Patty Phillips, David “Orlo” Anderson, Vic Lager, Lisa Pattni, Kevin Pietrini, and Carol Sundquist. In 1991, a permanent endowment was created with $100,000 from the city and $20,000 from the Northland Foundation for technical support.

The Foundation was called a community “savings account.” Using investment returns, it would provide resources for community projects to support the young and old, beautify our lakes and parks, and respond to emerging needs of the city.

  • First memorial gifts were given to the foundation, on behalf of Bev Bonner, Virginia resident and board member.
  • Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board committed to a $50,000 challenge grant.
  • The foundation’s first grants were given to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Virginia Key Club, and the Oldtown/Finntown Group.
  • Combined estates of Wesley and Hartley Koski, valued at $1,050,000, were donated to the Virginia Community Foundation.
  • The Board of Directors hired a part-time Executive Director with support from Northland Foundation.
  • First Turn on Your Lights Campaign held.
  • With support from the Northland Foundation, the foundation was established as a 501c (3) public charity as an independent community foundation.
  • Opened a storefront location at 519 Chestnut Street. This space is donated by Northern State Bank.
  • First annual Golf Tournament was held.
  • The Blue Pride Fund, the first named fund of the Virginia Community Foundation, was established. Contributions to the Blue Pride Fund go specifically to maintain and support co-curricular activities, as defined by the Minnesota State High School League.
  • The Board of Directors hired a part-time Administrative Assistant.
  • The Virginia Public Library Fund was established to support literature and learning through assistance to the Virginia Public Library, with capital projects, materials and programming.
  • A private donor announced a matching gift of up to $100,000 for the unrestricted endowment.
  • Volunteer Excellence Award was presented to the Virginia Community Foundation for outstanding service to our region through its dedication to building the health and vitality of our community.
  • The Foundation received National Standards designation for community foundations. This designation is awarded to foundations that meet rigorous standards in philanthropy for operational quality, donor services and accountability.
  • The Virginia Educational Fund was established to create community connections to the classroom, to enhance available resources, to enrich experiences, and to provide the best educational opportunities for all students in Virginia Public Schools.
  • The Foundation developed a Special Initiative to encourage reinvestment in the downtown by establishing two non-endowed funds. As non-endowed funds, gifts to the Downtown Revitalization Fund and the Virginia Mural Fund are available for current needs.
  • Virginia’s first mural featuring community icons, Hartley and Wesley Koski, was installed in the 100 block north area of Second Avenue.
  • The Foundation sponsored the Great Virginia Get-Together. Led by volunteers, this all-community and all-class reunion brought thousands of current and former residents together to celebrate the Virginia community.
  •  The Marty Biondich Mural is installed
  •   A Fund for the Arts, with funds from P&H Mining Equipment, was established to    support arts and culture in the greater Virginia, Minnesota area.
  • The Virginia Community Foundation’s longtime director, Linda Niskanen, retired after a decade of service.
  • The 20/20 Campaign prepared the way for VCF’s 20th anniversary.
  • In the fall, grants were awarded to the Range Women’s Advocates for a TDY crisis line and amplification equipment, to the Mesabi Community Orchestra for their production of Peter and the Wolf, and a VEF grant was made to Roosevelt School for an iPad for the teachers.
  • VCF embarked on new endeavors, creating new funds for the environment and area parks, growing the endowment, and intiating exciting and fresh fund-raising events.
  • The Canelake mural was unveiled and a new mural announced; a Virginia Marching Band mural.
  • The staff and Board members continued to build connections and relationships within the community strengthening the foundation’s role.
  • In September 2013, Marvin Skaurud left approximately $1,000,000 for the Skaurud Scholarship Fund.
  • First Redneck Ball is held
  • Granted $10,000 to the Mentor Mesabi program
  • Joy Global donated $15,000 to the VCF Unrestricted Fund.
  • The Ojibwe Mural was installed in April.
  • The 2nd Annual Redneck Ball: Bucks and Does is held.
  • An anonymous donor established the “Lou’s Closet” Fund, which benefits children  in the Virginia school district.
  •  Ronda “Rudy” Harvey, former board member, hired as new Executive Director.
  • Hosted the 25th Anniversary gala event in August.
  • The Sports Mural was installed.
  • The Olcott Park Fountain Restoration Committee approached the VCF about establishing a non-endowed fund. The fund agreement was signed in August and, to date, the fund has raised over $40,000 toward their initial goal of $100,000.
  • The Olcott Park Fountain Restoration Fund officially becomes a Project Fund of the Virginia Community Foundation
  • An anonymous donor comes forward and leaves a $50,000 donation for the Fountain Restoration project.
  • A groundbreaking ceremony with dignitaries is done in August – Duluth resident-Mary Aufderheide sees project on news, attends, and donates $10,000 to keep project viable.
  • VCF board approves grant for the Virginia Market Square Project – The Farmers Market is held weekly on Thursday’s 2:30-6:00 the months of June – August
  • Virginia Foundation & Revive Virginia partner on IRRRB -Downtown Corridor Grant and receive $100,000 for downtown revitalization
  • The Dr. Halvor & Emily Olson scholarship Fund is created by the Olson family in memory of past Virginia residents-to be awarded to Virginia High School student studying at the University of MN in area of liberal arts.
  • Lou’s Closet receives a $20,000 donation from Virginia resident – Virgil “Vergie” Zarnac and adds the vision correction component to existing funds purpose to allow students experiencing hardships with medical, vision & eye care.
  • Virginia Foundation  approves grant for $10,000 to Lyric Center for the Arts storefront remodel.
  • VCF gives $10,000 grant and partners with City of Virginia & Realtors Association on Bridgeview Pocket Park in Franklin area of Mesabi Bike Trail.
  • Collaboration between Virginia Foundation, Essentia Health Foundation, Laurentian Chamber of Commerce & Revive Virginia-to bring back longstanding “Festival of Trees” event back to community.
  • First ever – evening parade in Virginia during Festival of Trees – lighted floats, concert bands, and over 1500 people attend this now-beloved event.
  • “Brewfest” event is created by community of volunteers as a fundraiser for Olcott Park Fountain Restoration committee project and raises $10,000.  Over 300 people attend the event and was a huge success with food vendors and craft beer & local distributors.
  • Grants awarded; to Virginia Rotary Club-canopies for Kids Fishing Contest- United Way-Buddy Back Pack program, YMCA- after school program & AEOA- food shelf program.
  • 2nd Annual Festival of Trees event is held again with the Virginia Foundation, Essentia Health Foundation, Laurentian Chamber of Commerce & Revive Virginia.  Parade again is the families and community highlight of the wonderful week kicking of Christmas.
  • Dr. David Brenner-former Urologist at VRMC- give VCF donation of land with the hopes of the Virginia Foundation to use funds on a new office. Land Donation-$105,000.
  • Virginia Foundation moves into its new home at 303 Chestnut Street.
  • Olcott Park Fountain sprays for the first time in 30 years-community gathers to celebrate the labor of love and the hard work done by donors, volunteers & community.
  • Virginia Foundation awards grant $50,000 to partnership between IRRRB & CRD group for Downtown Develop.
  • Grants awarded to; City of Virginia for Pine-mill Court Playground equipment, Marquette Catholic School- Playground equipment & to the Olcott Park Fountain Restoration Fund.
  • Corona Virus starts in February and office is closed to walk in traffic-staff works from home until later in the year.
  • All non-profits and businesses down as a result of COVID
  • An online auction is done for Festival of Trees event collaboration
  • New events created that were COVID-friendly were well-received by community and over 400 people attended drive-by 1st Annual Christmas Tree Lighting in Olcott Park around the Fountain
  • Virginia Community Foundation celebrates 30th Anniversary in May!\.
  • Virginia Community Foundation opens up to public visitors per Governor Walz authorization in March.
  • The 4th Festival of Trees event collaboration begins to plan community-wide event to be bigger and better than ever in March.
  • VCF approves grant to Revive-Lyric Center for the Arts to bring “First Thursday’s” Art Crawl event to community. The “First Thursday’s” events have been very well attended and the public excitement is wonderful.