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Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation: 10th anniversary and bearing fruit

In this Oct. 25, 2016 photo, Chad Nixon, then-vice president of the Worthington Area YMCA Board of Directors (front, second from left) accepts a check from Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation President Jason Johnson (front, third from left) for the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign. Also shown are board members of both organizations. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series marking two major milestones of the WRHFC. The second piece will highlight some recipients of the $2 million in grants and scholarships the WRHCF has awarded since July 2008.

WORTHINGTON — Another month’s passing will make it officially 10 years since the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation, Inc. (WRHCF) was reconfigured, following the sale of the former Worthington Regional Hospital to Sanford Health Care effective July 1, 2008.

That change in ownership allowed the WRHCF — already a 501(c)(3) organization since its inception in 1983 — to switch its status under IRS codes, become an independent entity and thus refocus its purpose and goals.

“It broadened what the dollars could be used for,” said Jeff Rotert, WRHCF executive director, “without having to change the foundation’s name.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of the shift is made evident by this notable and complementary milestone: Since July 2008, the WRHCF has presented grants and scholarships totaling more than $2 million, with all recipients — whether organizations or individuals — lying within Nobles County.

Opportunity knocks

When the city of Worthington was negotiating with Sanford in 2007-08 to establish a price for the formerly city-owned hospital, certain community leaders had the foresight to dedicate a portion of the proceeds to the foundation.

“At the time we did it, we knew the foundation money could not be managed by the city or any government entity,” said Alan Oberloh, Worthington’s mayor from 2003-14.

“We had to relinquish all ties to it and ensure the foundation would function as a completely separate organization, totally separate from both the city and the hospital.

“It’s definitely had a good impact on the immediate community and surrounding area, because what the WRHCF board has done with the money could not have been expended by a city government; they have a freer rein to look at the overall health and wellness needs in the area, and I’m pleasantly surprised with how it’s turned out.”

Mel Platt, former CEO of Worthington Regional Hospital, concurs.

“When the hospital sale happened, we asked for some of the money to be transferred to the foundation; that was the grubstake for the newly reorganized foundation,” said Platt, now of Sioux Falls, S.D.

As the board chair at the time, Jason Vote presided over the WRHCF’s transition. Ultimately, Vote served two terms on the WRHCF board, from 2005-11.

“When the sale was negotiated between the city and the hospital, and the hospital was no longer solely city-owned, they graciously dedicated certain dollars for the health and betterment of this town and area,” said Vote.

“It was very forward-thinking of the city council and Mel Platt to do it.”

The sum of $5.4 million was allocated to the foundation, and the WRHCF’s nine-member board tackled the different challenges before it.

New focus, new mission

“We started at Ground Zero,” said Vote, recalling the period immediately following the WRHCF’s reorganization.

“We hired Bob Demuth Jr. as a part-time director after a few months, and we changed the mission of the foundation, which used to direct all its donations to strictly improving the hospital — and that’s changed completely,” Vote added.

Operated exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, the WRHCF was led by its board, which helped pen a new mission statement. It declares that the WRHCF exists “…for the health, wellness and education of the people in Worthington and the surrounding area.”

Said Vote, “At the beginning we were trying to determine an investment strategy, retool the mission, set parameters around our giving and proceed both with caution and optimism.”

Despite some early setbacks, when the recession pounded the stock market, the WRHCF board has guided the organization with clear purpose and steady hands.

“They’ve been good stewards of the money and avoided most of the investment ups and downs,” said Rotert, who has served as the WRHCF executive director since 2014.

“Managing to donate $2 million over 10 years while having a current fund balance of $6.1 million is a pretty good record.”

The WRHCF board aims to keep the principal in place while continuing to make meaningful grants and scholarship awards.

Upholding the mission while looking ahead

Current WRHCF board chair Jason Johnson is positive about the foundation’s future while being realistic about the challenges presented.

“Occasionally, someone will thank me for a grant that was made and I say, ‘No, don’t thank me; it’s our community’s money,’” stressed Johnson.

“We don’t have a formal guideline telling us how much we should give away each year, but we are working to develop a plan that will not only sustain but also grow the fund.

“We want to consider how we can generate dollars for the fund, and how we can tell the WRHCF story so when people are considering making a financial gift to a nonprofit, the foundation will be in their minds.”

Added Rotert, “If someone is looking to put a stamp on the future of this community, they should know that gifts can be designated for specific causes and purposes; the avenues exist within the foundation to do just about anything.”

In the past few years, the WRHCF has begun offering a greater number of matching grants. That strategy has met with success and is favorably viewed by both the board and grant recipients.

“We’ve been able to really kick-start some programming in the area that is extremely important,” said Rotert.

“Some of it may or may not have happened without the foundation, but the matching grants have done well here, which says a lot for people’s motivations and generosity.”

Johnson is similarly pleased with the success of the WRHCF’s matching grant initiatives.

“When people want to leverage their gifts and have the chance to turn a $1 donation into what amounts to a $2 one, that can inspire others to give,” said Johnson.

Whether it’s projects like the planned Centennial Park splash pad (in cooperation with the Noon Kiwanis Club and the city of Worthington) and the Jami Cummings Learn to Swim program, or ongoing needs like the Manna Food Pantry, the WRHCF has been able to step in and help.

“The causes the WRHCF has funded may not touch every individual in the community, but they do reach the vast majority,” observed Oberloh.

“They’re [the WRHCF board] conscious of the need to create amenities the whole community can benefit from and enjoy in ways that consider the overall health and wellness needs here, and I’m pleased with the way it’s turned out.”

Platt, too, commends the WRHCF’s efforts.

“It’s exactly what the foundation should be doing,” said Platt. “As long as they maintain the philosophy they’ve set forth, they’ll do well.”

Vote and Johnson praise Rotert for his work with the WRHCF over the past few years.

“Jeff has taken it to the next level,” said Vote of the WRHCF, “and the winner in the whole scenario is the greater community.

“I’m extremely proud to have been involved from the start, and there’s a very capable board operating under Jeff’s leadership.”

Credited Johnson, “Jeff does a great job, and it’s a pleasure for me to serve on a board with such capable people.

“We don’t always agree 100 percent of the time, but that’s good; our board is very competent.”

As Johnson looks ahead to the day he will step down from his WRHCF board leadership position and pass the baton to Mark Shepherd, he is optimistic about continued success.

“My hope is that, in another 10 years, the WRHCF fund would have grown further while we’ve been able to continue making grants and awards to worthwhile projects and organizations,” said Johnson.

Contributed Vote, “It’s gratifying to see this all unfold, and I’m hopeful that the WRHCF will stay on this positive track in the future.”

The WRHCF’s annual golf tournament — a major fundraiser for the foundation — is scheduled for July 16. For information about tournament participation, or about donating to the WRHCF, contact Rotert at 372-2919 or at