Download History of the Community Foundation

Officially founded in 1997, The Community Foundation of Washington County MD, Inc. started with a gift of $9,000 from Mr. Merle Elliott. Since that time, the Foundation has expanded to over 200 funds, with assets of $30 million. Since the first grant in 1998, the Foundation has given over $11 million to the Washington County community and beyond.

Chronological History

Early 1900's

  • 1914:  The first community foundation formed in Cleveland, Ohio, by banker and lawyer Frederick H. Goff. Mr. Goff had a vision to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland's philanthropists, living and dead, into a permanent endowment. Community leaders would then forever distribute the interest that the trust’s resources would accrue. And thus, formed the first community foundation.
  • 1919:  Within five years of the founding of the Cleveland Foundation, similar foundations sprang up in Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Buffalo.   
  • 1921:  Over 30 community foundations formed in the United States representing most major cities. 
  • 1944:  The National Committee of Foundations & Trusts formed with the eventual inclusion of other types of foundations becoming the Council on Foundations. 


  • 1969:  The Tax Reform Act of 1969 introduced new legislation and regulations which provided community foundations with new tax advantages not afforded to private foundations. Finalized in 1976, the new regulatory advantages spurred foundation growth as communities across the United Sates began to see the potential benefits in having publicly “owned” permanent endowments.   


  • Mid-1980’s:  “How will Washington County remember us?” asked Merle Elliott, a businessman and community leader, to a group of other local leaders meeting at the Hagerstown fairgrounds. From this conversation, the need and interest of creating a community foundation began. Mr. Elliott described a community foundation as “a permanent institution that will serve our community for many generations to come.” Describing the benefits of giving to a community foundation verses giving directly to a nonprofit organization, Mr. Elliott said, “In survival mode, it’s easy for an organization to invade its pot of money to pay for operating expenses. But a community foundation commits to the notion that it won’t be invaded...When money comes to us, we’re responsible for it, and it doesn’t get used except for the way intended. If you give to a community foundation, that money will be there.” 


  • Early 1990’s:  The idea of a community foundation in Washington County, MD, gained local commitment and enthusiasm. Michael G. Day, a local elder law attorney with training in estate planning, became a catalyst to help the effort stay on track. Mr. Day began speaking to local groups and clubs as well as meeting privately with key individuals to ask for their support and help.
  • Mid 1990’s:  A number of key people clearly understood the benefits of a community foundation and urged Mr. Elliott to move forward. One of these key players was John M. Waltersdorf, president of Tristate Electrical Supply Co., and chairman of the Greater Hagerstown Committee. Mr. Robert Kenney, a retired Texaco senior executive, was also inspired by Mr. Elliott and Mr. Waltersdorf’s enthusiasm. Mr. Kenney volunteered much of his time as one of the trustees and then accepted minimal pay as the organization’s first part-time director. Mr. Kenney said, “We were flying on air. We just started with nothing and gradually came along.” 
  • 1995:  Everyone’s hard work began paying off as Mr. Day filed the articles of incorporation with the state of Maryland, and the Community Foundation of Washington County MD, Inc., became incorporated on November 3, 1995. The Foundation spent the next two years getting organized.
  • 1997:  Although almost a decade had passed from conception to birth, the Community Foundation finally launched in November 1997 during National Community Foundations Week. Merle Elliott became the first chairman of the board. The new Foundation had nearly $100,000 in assets at the time and planned to make grants to local nonprofits once its unrestricted endowment reached $500,000.
  • December 1998:  The Foundation granted almost $19,000 to 32 local nonprofit organizations during its first year of operations. The Foundation also had assets of $200,000.
  • 1999:  Joyce Heptner was hired as Executive Director of the Foundation. During this time, grants reached an accumulative total of $100,000.


  • The Hagerstown Washington County Industrial Foundation Inc. (CHIEF) donated $250,000 to the Foundation to establish a fund for economic development, community betterment and workforce training. That same year, an anonymous couple donated $2 million to the Foundation, bringing the Foundation’s assets to $3 million. 
  • The People’s Choice Awards began this year as the Foundation’s signature event. Today, this annual event continues honoring Washington County’s unsung heroes, the individuals who better their community, but don’t generally seek or receive public credit. Sponsorships of the event allow for three $5,000 endowments created in the honoree’s name and designated to the nonprofit of their choice. As of 2013, the Foundation has honored 40 individuals and two couples.


  • The Maryland Community Foundation Association formed and accepted the Community Foundation of Washington County MD, Inc., as a charter member.


  • Brad Sell became the Executive Director of the Foundation.  
  • The Foundation distributed $245,981 in grants to local nonprofit organizations—an increase of 80 percent over the previous year—and reached assets of nearly $6 million held in 78 different funds.  


  • The Community Foundation established its Unrestricted Grants with an initial amount of $25,372 awarded to six nonprofit agencies. Funding for these grants is provided through four funds held at the Community Foundation and include:  1) Community Endowment Fund, 2) Pauline Anderson Foundation, 3) Waltersdorf-Henson Endowment Fund and 4) Waltersdorf Family Community Fund.
  • Kristy Smith is hired as the Foundation’s first Program  & Donor Relations Manager. 


  • October 2004:  The Foundation held a press conference to announce its biggest donation to date and offer a landmark challenge to local nonprofits. The Community Foundation partnered with the John M. Waltersdorf Family and the Richard A. Henson Foundation to provide a $5 million, one-to-one match to funds raised by nonprofit agencies participating in the challenge. The Waltersdorf-Henson Endowment Challenge Campaign will ultimately inject $10 million into the efforts of local nonprofit agencies over the next five years.


  • June 30, 2005:  The Waltersdorf-Henson Endowment Challenge Campaign kicked off and the 16 participating organizations were announced to the public.
  • 2005-2010: The participating organizations of the Waltersdorf-Henson Endowment Challenge Campaign must raise $5 million to be matched by the John M. Waltersdorf family and the Richard A. Henson Foundation. Despite the economic downturn, all of the organizations met their goals by the end of the challenge.
  • Internationally, community foundations are recognized in 46 countries with close to 1,200 individual foundations. 


  • September 2007:  The Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was introduced to the Washington County community and sponsored by the Foundation and the NEA. This event promoted the literary reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and included movie screenings, book discussions and promotion of the book to local school students.
  • The Community Foundation celebrated the 10th anniversary of its first grant. In just 10 years, the Foundation had grown from $9,000 in contributions and $0 in grants, to nearly $3 million in contributions and $733,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations. The Foundation also held a total of $13.6 million in invested assets.  
  • The Foundation introduced IMPACT, a publication to showcase the success of the Foundation in its first ten years and to highlight the annual report. As a result of the magazine’s success, it has become an annual publication released during the month of November.
  • The Community Foundation is recognized as meeting the national standards for U.S. Community Foundations as set forth through the Council on Foundations.


  • The Mary K. Bowman Historical and Fine Arts Trust dissolved and turned their assets of $1 million over to the Community Foundation to manage. Their advisory board remains intact to continue the grant process.
  • the Foundation hisres Joyce Hetzer as the first Finance Manager. 
  • The Community Foundation reaches $14.2 million in assets and grants $840,000. 


  • The Foundation adopted a new investment allocation model and hired Mason Investment Advisory Services to manage the endowment funds.
  • The executive directors of both the United Way and the Community Foundation became ex-officio members of each other’s board of trustees. 
  • A consultant is hired to coordinate and document a strategic plan for the Foundation for implementation over the next few years.  
  • April 2009:  The Big Read is promoted throughout Washington County with the novel “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Events and programs included a Gatsby Garden Party, a jazz performance entitled "Swingin’ in the Park" and a comparison of hip hop music and jazz in the local schools. 
  • The Foundation celebrated the 10th anniversary of the People’s Choice Awards.
  • Assets of the Foundation reached $15.2 million and grant awards reached over $1 million. 


  • The Foundation has its first strategic plan approved and implemented.
  • Collaboration with the United Way of Washington County began the creation of the first Strategic Community Impact Plan (SCIP), a long range strategic plan to improve the quality of life in Washington County, MD.  www.strategicwashingtoncounty.org. Key areas included people, family and community.
  • April 2010:  The Big Read was held for the third year and featured the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Numerous events around the area included dramatic readings at local schools, discussions at libraries and even a blood drive entitled “The Big Read meets the Big Bleed.” Copies of books were provided to promote enlightenment through reading.
  • September 2, 2010:  The Community Foundation lost a true champion and benefactor when John M. Waltersdorf passed away at the age of 84. In total, Mr. Waltersdorf contributed over $6.5 million and helped establish over 20 funds at the Community Foundation. 
  • December 2010:  December 2010 marked the official end of the Waltersdorf-Henson Endowment Challenge Campaign with all 16 organizations meeting their goals. At the end of 2010, $341,000 had already been distributed from the campaign.
  • The Foundation saw its best single year of investment performance in its 13 year history with assets totaling $18.3 million and grant awards totaling $887,000.


  • Spring 2011: The Steering Committee reconvened for a final evaluation of the Strategic Community Impact Plan's (SCIP) goals and strategies.
  • October 2011: SCIP was finally published and made available to the public. The plan consisted of 44 goals/focus areas.


  • The Community Foundation now holds more than 200 funds with over $30 million in assets. It has distributed more than $11 million to the Washington County area and beyond. 
  • In the United States, community foundations serve tens of thousands of donors, administer more than $31 billion in charitable funds, and address the core concerns of nearly 700 communities and regions.




Download More Information:

Newsletter Signup

Signup for our newsletter

Join Our Mailing List