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At the fourth STAND meeting, Pete Cooper, left, and Alison Burke discuss issues in the Chattanooga community. They were there to formulate ideas to help alleviate crime issues in the area.

A former banker and trust officer who helped build the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga into one of the city's biggest philanthropies over the past 25 years is stepping down later this year.

Pete Cooper, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, said Monday he plans to retire as foundation head by the end of 2015.

"We have a great staff and are in great financial shape, which in my opinion is exactly when you need a CEO transition," Cooper said. "After 25 years, I think we could probably use a bright new person to come in with new ideas and more social-media savvy, but I hope to still be around to contribute in many ways."

The Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga makes more than $15 million a year in grants to a variety of designated causes in Chattanooga, making it one of the top 50 such community foundations per capita in the United States.

When Cooper was hired as the agency's first full-time employee in 1990, the foundation had assets of $8 million. He previously spent 20 years at SunTrust Bank and its predecessor, American National Bank and Trust, and helped grow the foundation to $116 million in assets today, with another $400 million pledged through wills and estates to be paid out in the future.

The Community Foundation has more than 360 different funds and another 130 donor-drive funds. More than 4,000 people donated to one or more of the foundation's accounts last year.

"Pete Cooper made the Community Foundation what it is today, which is basically a go-to place for people in the community that are interested in either doing their own startup causes or need some type of nonprofit assistance or advice," said Michelle Ruest, an affiliate broker for Crye-Leike Real Estate Services and chairwoman of the Community Foundation. "He's really the voice of nonprofits in Chattanooga."

Ruest said the foundation has hired a search firm to find a successor to Cooper by the end of December, which she said should make a smooth transition in leadership for the seven-person team.

Cooper's retirement follows the announcement in January that the head of the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Eva Dillard, also is retiring this year. United Way last month selected Lesley Scearce formerly CEO of the youth devleopment organization On Point, to succeed Dillard as president.

"There is a new generation of donors and leaders emerging in Chattanooga," said Cooper, who will turn 67 in November.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6340.

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