It was September 1st of 1997, and an initiative from the Lilly Endowment focused on the creation of Community Foundations around the state.
Switzerland County would begin the process in cooperation with the foundation beginning in Jefferson County — but the desire for this county to have its own, separate foundation was strong.
And that’s when Pam Acton brought her expertise to what was to become the Community Foundation of Switzerland County, Inc.
“We were affiliated with Madison, and I worked part time for Madison’s foundation and part time for this one to get it started,” Pam said. “And it took off from there.”
Last week, after guiding this community foundation to incredible heights, Pam Acton retired after 24 years as the Executive Director. She leaves behind an incredible legacy that will be filled by new director Tye Sullivan, but she’s not going anywhere, because her roots here in the county have grown deep.
A quarter of a century later, the work of the Community Foundation is a steady force here, but when everything started, there was a lot of work to be done.
“Lilly had put out the GIFT (Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow) program, and GIFT II was being announced, and a gentleman named Ed Sullivan, who used to be the executive director of the foundation in Columbus (Indiana) decided that Southeastern Indiana counties needed to be a part of it,” she said. “He met with people in the different counties, and here he met with John Keeton. John was who pulled people together.”
At that point, Acton was already help move the county forward as the Director of Tourism, but her background had been in charitable endeavors, having worked with Sullivan to create the foundation in Columbus as well as working with the United Way organization for 18 years. Those two entities shared office space, so Acton spent time working in both organizations. That background made her the perfect choice to coordinate the formation of the foundation here.
“I came with lots of information already built in,” Acton smiled.
Pam and Bud Acton had been wanting to relocate along the river when Bud retired, and having camped along the river, they began to drive and look for property.
“We found the property in Lamb, and we called Teresa (Lyons) and she put it all together,” Pam said. “Teresa also knew that I was going to be looking for a job once we moved here, and at that time Prestine Chapman was leaving Tourism, so Teresa urged me to apply.”
In 2000, after three years as an affiliate of the Jefferson County Foundation, the Community Foundation of Switzerland County decided it was time to stand on its own.
“We had gotten through the GIFT II program, and the group here decided that they wanted to have their own, free standing foundation,” Pam said. “People think I’m kidding, but I take full responsibility for the 2000 stock market crash, because that happened the day they transferred our money. We’ve been going ever since.”
And what’s been built over these past 24 years is a testament to the generosity of the community and the hard work of Acton and her board of director members.
It’s something that’s easy to be proud of.
“This is my baby,” Acton said. “I appreciate everybody saying all the things I did, but the board let me guide them, that’s all I really did. Yes, I’m proud. K.C. Banta was on my first board, and I’ll always remember him saying, ‘After that first meeting, I thought you were all crazier than a loon, thinking we could do this in this community’.”
$15 million later, the reach of the foundation is long.
Acton said that the last figures she saw showed that the foundation had been able to move about $500,000 each year back into the community and its youth through scholarships.
All of that happens without touching the corpus of the $15 million — a cornerstone principle of foundations, as charitable gifts are made based on the proceeds of the investment of the core amount, meaning that each endowment will continue forever because the central core of money is never diminished.
“Only twice have we had to go to the donors who have created endowments saying ‘sorry, there is no grant this year, because of the total of the original gifts. We’re here to protect that,” Pam said, noting that plunges in the stock market caused returns on the principle to be lower than expected. “I’ve been telling Tye (new director Tye Sullivan) we have been so blessed. Are our donors disappointed? Yes, but they understand that when you create this, it’s forever. The people of this community are wonderful.”
So what comes next for Pam Acton? She’s slowing down, but just a bit.
“I don’t know, I’m just going to let it happen,” she said. “I will get a job. But at least for awhile I just want to go in and put my time in and go home. I just want to ‘be’ for awhile. I have travel plans for September and October, and then we’ll see what comes next.”
So as she leaves this position, Acton also looks back at the incredible work of board members and staff that she has been blessed to work with.
“People give me credit, but it’s Melissa,” Acton said of co-worker Melissa Andrew, who is remaining on staff. She’s made sure everything has been top quality. The people who have served on our board truly care about the community, and that’s made this so successful. I have been blessed to be a part of all of this.”