“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Since Chuck Fowler’s childhood, this has been a moral compass for how to live life personally and professionally.
Chuck and his wife, Char, married while still in college. After school they lived in Chicago where Chuck managed a Firestone Tire Store. Char was a homemaker, busy with their three daughters Chann, Holley and Angie.
They moved several times throughout Illinois and Indiana for Chuck’s career. When Chuck took a job at a General Motors foundry, he was introduced to the industrial sand industry. Char worked in education, as a librarian and fourth grade teacher. In 1982 their youngest daughter, Angie, was diagnosed with cancer and lost her battle at age 14.
In 1986, with Chann and Holley in college, Chuck co-founded Fairmount Minerals in Chardon, Ohio. He and Char then took up residence in Cleveland.
Char became involved in various Cleveland nonprofits. Along with Chuck’s professional connections, the couple became involved in the community and committed to making an impact in Northeast Ohio. With a strong sense of giving back, the couple established the Char & Chuck Fowler Family Foundation in 2001. The first grant was made to help fight against melanoma in honor of their daughter, Angie.
How did the idea of the Foundation come to fruition?
Char: Because of observations through volunteerism, we thought it made sense to set up a foundation to be more focused on our charitable contributions – especially in the health field because of our daughter’s illness.
Chuck: A part of it came from my Aunt Mary who lived in Miadon, Wisconsin. Her husband served as governor for a number of years, and he encouraged Aunt Mary to establish a foundation which funded education. This included funding for her siblings, nieces and nephews. I was quite impressed with how that worked! She passed along her values and shared her good fortune. It had always been in the back of my mind that it would be great to give back to not just family but to our neighbors and organizations in our communities. When there was an opportunity to do that, from a monetary sense, we established a foundation, first for our grandchildren then one for our siblings and their children, just like my Aunt Mary had done. Next, we decided to begin our philanthropic foundation.
What causes/issues are important to the Foundation? What goals do you hope to achieve?
Chuck: I hope to help people in Northeast Ohio, particularly those who need assistance in the area of health, education and the arts.
Adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer is a major area that we’ve been helping with, not just the research into cures but also the emotional, social and other issues involved in treating the disease. We recognized the need to address these issues when we were experiencing Angie’s treatment.
What results have you seen from this work?
Chuck: We helped create a floor dedicated to treatment [at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital] that is more attuned to young adults’ needs. The Foundation also created a garden area on top of Rainbow, so young patients could have space to enjoy nature and create diversions while in treatment. One of Angie’s requests while she underwent treatment was to get outside and participate in the world. We also sponsor a number of research projects in the area of young adult cancer with Case Western Reserve University and the physicians and providers at University Hospitals.
What is your hope for the Foundation?
Chuck: I hope that it lasts as long as our daughters want to keep it running. It’s not necessarily set up as an indefinite thing…it needs people to be interested in it. Hopefully family members will be interested in keeping it going.
In working with grantees, how do you want to be viewed as a grantmaker?
Char: We truly care about the “cause” and like to be kept abreast of what is working and what is not.
Chuck: We want to be viewed as supportive of their efforts and our grants to be utilized in the way they were requested and approved.
As a philanthropist, what you do think you are known for at this point?
Char: It sounds simple but we really do care. We don’t just award a grant and walk away. We want to understand an organization’s issues and make sure we’re helping to solve a problem or make the organization better.
What do you want to be known of over the course of the next 10 years?
Char: “You made a difference.”
Chuck: We were here to help and improve lives in Northeast Ohio.
What have you learned about philanthropy in Northeast Ohio?
Char: One thing I have learned is there are so many small organizations doing big work, and they struggle with funding. It’s important to provide them with general operational funds and to trust them to spend wisely, perhaps instead of funding a special program.
Chuck: Northeast Ohio, particularly Cleveland, has been incredibly fortunate as the birthplace for community giving and community foundations. The Cleveland Foundation was the first of its kind when it was established a number years ago. Many groups have been formed to help foundations perform better and to do the best that they can; we’re happy to be a part of that system.
How has your grant making changed?
Char: Our grantmaking has evolved as we have become more focused in specific program areas. Our hope is that by being more targeted we can make a bigger difference for our grantees, and ultimately for our community.
Chuck: The biggest change has been that our Foundation has become better known, and in turn it’s enhanced the opportunity for people to apply. There are so many good people…and good causes.
What should grantees keep in mind when applying for your grant?
Char: Those applying need to make their stories real and tell us why they do the work that they do!