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United for 50 years

The United Way of Southwest Minnesota is celebrating 50 years of giving this year.

October 6, 2012
By Karin Elton , Marshall Independent

Back in 1962, gas was 25 cents a gallon, candy bars were a nickel and the organization now known as the United Way of Southwest Minnesota was in its infancy.

Local volunteers came together 50 years ago to improve community conditions. Called the Community Chest back then, it was chartered in 1962, said Ruth Ascher, the current executive director.

"It was formalized in 1962," she said, "by a group trying to raise money for various programs."

Article Photos

This image shows some of the promotional literature from the United Way throughout the years.

In the early '60s, Mayor Charles "Bud" McGuiggan headed a special group that raised money to donate to various endeavors.

The Community Chest gave to charities such as Radio Free Europe, Sister Kenny and the University of Minnesota YMCA. Local charities that received money included Marshall High School Patrol, Holy Redeemer Patrol and Boy and Girl Scouts.

Today, 100 percent of contributions go to people living in Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Yellow Medicine and western Redwood counties for diverse programs such as Head Start of Western Community Action, Senior Nutrition Program of Lutheran Social Services, Canby Bloodmobile and Women's Rural Advocacy Programs.

As a Marshall businessman in the late 1960s, Bob Aufenthie helped to raise money for community needs but was really drawn into philanthropy when bank president John Suedbeck gave him a call and entrusted him with the task of pulling together Marshall businesspeople to form a new committee to think of new ways to raise money.

The team of about 10 included David Weiner of Marshall Foods, Dick Lusk from KMHL Radio and Ivan Carrow of Carrow Cleaners.

"We decided we would have a telethon on local TV in the basement of city hall," Aufenthie said. "The goal we set was $50,000. David Weiner said if we reached that goal, he would throw in $3,500 and we did by midnight."

The telethon, which would take place annually until about 2001, was "a lot of fun," Aufenthie said. "We had the right people organizing it, with a lot of enthusiasm. We had Girl scouts, Boy Scouts, church groups, schools. Every 15 minutes someone took that stage. Parents would sit at home and watch their kid on TV."

Aufenthie said the telethons were "very successful."

He said he and others joined United Way "to promote Marshall, to promote a sense of giving."

The United Way acted as a clearinghouse to meet many community needs so individuals didn't have to ask for money from each business for their cause, they could go to one place, he said.

"I'm very proud to have been involved with United Way," he said.

Today there are more ways to give, Aufenthie said, such as payroll donation and employer matches.

"Ruth Ascher has been doing a fabulous job, a superb job," he said.

Ascher coordinates fund drives including the "Dine-out for United Way," in which businesses give a certain dollar amount or percentage of a meal is donated to United Way; Power of the Purse silent auctions take place every year as well as cake decorating events and many more activities designed to drum up interest and money for the cause.

Ascher started her tenure at United Way in 2002 and before that it was Deb Moon and before her it was Lois Schmidt, who was the first paid staffer.

Schmidt said in the early 1990s, the board of directors looked at other communities and saw they were giving more and looked at what was different. The difference was paid staff.

"So they wrote a grant proposal to Otto Bremer and got a two-year grant," Schmidt said.

Schmidt remembers the board back then was comprised of volunteers such as Joyce Strootman, Steve Strautz, Tom Meulebroeck, Eric Luther, Bruce Lamprecht, Mike Henle, Michelle Full, Sara Runchey and Sandy Nelson.

"They were a great group," she said.

"We developed workplace giving as a way to increase the contributions we could make to charities," Schmidt said.

Marshall had lagged behind other communities in giving and also the need for more giving was apparent, Schmidt said.

"We developed the payroll deduction where employees could contribute regularly," she said.

From campaign goals of $60,000 in the 1990s to last year's donations totaling $515,000, Schmidt said the United Way of Southwest Minnesota has come a long way.



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