published Friday, March 11th, 2011

The change at Lyndhurst

TIMES EDITORIAL

Area residents have happily come to accept the stunning evolution of Chattanooga from the hard days of environmental degradation and economic despair — the low ebb ran from the 1960s through the 1980s — to the status that we’ve achieved since the 1990s. The city’s remarkable renaissance over the last 20 years in almost every measurable realm has surprised many and infused us all with pride and ever higher expectations. It has also, understandably, become such a norm of life here that it’s easy to forget its genesis and the nexus of effort, vision and partnerships that have produced our critical turnaround — and the effort still necessary to sustain it.

This history, and what our future holds, is especially noteworthy with the announcement today of the sharp shift that is about to occur in the Lyndhurst Foundation, which arguably has been the most potent philanthropic and creative force behind the city’s renaissance and economic revival.

Its reorganization — spinning off five smaller foundations that will each have different homes and new agendas, while keeping a revamped Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga — marks a significant turning point. It prompts fresh appreciation of the foundation’s crucial role and the fruits of its vast investments over the past several decades — nearly $100 million in the past seven years alone — to improve the place that we more proudly call home. And it refreshes hope for its somewhat more restricted role in the future.

Lyndhurst remains intact

The reorganization of Lyndhurst is a natural evolution of sorts. Founded as the Memorial Welfare Foundation more than 70 years ago by Coca-Cola magnate Thomas Cartter Lupton, the foundation initially focused its philanthropic energies mainly on Chattanooga, helping fund programs to improve education, health care, the arts and cultural activities.

With the founder’s death in 1977 and a large infusion from his estate to its endowment, the foundation, renamed the Lyndhurst Foundation, came under the leadership of his heirs, John T. (Jack) Lupton and Elizabeth Lupton Davenport. They enlarged its mission to include the revitalization of downtown and the riverfront and the protection of the environment and land conservation.

Under a plan that’s been in the making for several years, half of the Lyndhurst Foundation’s approximately $200 million endowment will be divided among the five heirs of Jack Lupton and Elizabeth Davenport for their five new foundations. Four of these will be located in other cities and will focus in new areas in those cities and elsewhere.

The Lyndhurst Foundation will remain here, however. And with the balance of the endowment — which will be roughly equal to that of the similarly oriented Benwood Foundation — it will continue to focus on improving the quality of life in the Chattanooga area, albeit under a new mission statement to be established by a new 10-member board. Chattanoogans can be thankful for its continuing role. More good works are sure to flow from the partnerships and synergies that have been its strength for years.

An unparalleled impact

The Lyndhurst Foundation, as a matter of practice, neither takes nor seeks much credit for its quiet partnership role in the many endeavors that it has helped support, nor even for those in which it has taken the lead. But its importance is abundantly clear to the elected officials and agency leaders who request or see the philanthropic contributions that seamlessly support myriad efforts to make the city, our environment, our economic opportunities and our quality of life stronger and more desirable.

Many endeavors rely heavily, some virtually entirely, on the philanthropic contributions, vision and leadership that spring from the Lyndhurst, Benwood and Community foundations.

Indeed, it’s virtually impossible here to walk in any revitalized neighborhood, to visit any school, to hike on any greenway, to enjoy a revitalized part of downtown, to travel any newly protected forest or greenspace, to canoe the Tennessee River Gorge, or to enjoy any park, cultural activity or civic event nowadays — and not be touched by a gift or a partnership that Lyndhurst has supported.

Yet the scope of its work, and the unifying vision behind it, is far broader. For example, Lyndhurst has helped EPB build the nation’s fastest fiber-optic cable capacity and most advanced Smart Grid; generously contributed $4 million to UTC’s heralded National Center for Computational Engineering (the SIM-Center); contributed $10 million to the 21st Century Waterfront, in addition to the Lupton family’s even larger investment in the initial building of the Tennessee Aquarium; and generously funded a share of RiverCity’s downtown redevelopment work since its inception, including the Design Studio that laid out the plan for downtown’s renaissance.

It has aided the state SCORE educational initiative, led by former Sen. Bill Frist, and contributed the bulk of the funding for the Public Education Foundation and its “Middle Schools for a New Society Initiative,” which focuses specifically on improving student achievement and development of faculty in the county school system’s 21 middle schools.

A cohesive larger vision

Taken together with its other efforts to improve the quality of life and to elevate the educational, economic and technological infrastructure of the city, Lyndhurst’s total body of its work, beginning with the funding and planning for the community’s Vision 2000 campaign back in the 1980s, can be seen to constitute a remarkable, and probably the most visionary and cohesive, component of the city’s rebirth.

Certainly its quiet investments of time and energy in fostering partnerships and objective work plans, and its selfless generosity — in grants ranging from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars in planned annual gifts — have become deeply enmeshed with the fabric of the city and region in almost every constructive endeavor.

An enabler in the best sense

The genius and strategy of the foundation’s work, however, is what makes it so compelling and so vital, and yet so unseen and thus often unknown. Lyndhurst doesn’t make random grants or pursue quixotic goals. Its gifts generally serve to empower collaborative partners by helping them build their organization’s capacity to attain their own goals. At the same time, it directs its funding and works strategically with an array of partners in a range of areas to achieve larger common goals for the community and region, all of which broadly promote our quality of life and educational and economic opportunity.

It is, in short, an enabler in the best sense of the word. So its selfless efforts and planned, benchmarked support typically result in improvements that often are not associated with Lyndhurst, but rather with neighborhood groups educational, arts and cultural organizations, community revitalization and housing agencies, city and county governments, and conservation, greenway and land preservation groups.

Lyndhurst has never tooted its own horn. But some figures we requested suggest both the scope and the value of its charitable work and visionary efforts. Over the past 10 years, for example, the Lyndhurst Foundation has focused its strategic giving in:

• Local and regional land conservation — grants totaling $16,587,950;

• Downtown revitalization and urban neighborhood priorities — $32,829,500;

• Arts and cultural grants — $9,397,963;

• Local, regional and national education initiatives — $12,368,500;

• Local and regional greenways, blueways (water), trails and outdoor recreation — $4,860,375.

In these broad areas, Lyndhurst has made grants for specific work to literally scores of organizations here and elsewhere, in addition to its ancillary focus areas. A listing of its grantees and partners would take more room than we have here. But in one way or another, it is certain beyond doubt that every resident in this community has benefited from the work and vision of the Lyndhurst Foundation.

As Lyndhurst emerges from the pending reorganization, we look forward with hope that its philanthropic goals will continue to serve the community as admirably as they have in the past. We will all continue to be the richer for it.

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