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Community Foundation announces $3.8 million in grants

The David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region recently has awarded $3.8 million in grants to local and state nonprofit organizations reflecting the charitable interests of the late couple and their family.


More than two dozen nonprofits and community projects are the recipients of new grants announced today, thanks to the generosity of a local family whose charitable fund at the Community Foundation will benefit others forever. In May 2018 the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region announced it had received an estate gift of more than $100 million that was arranged by the late David and Rita Nelson of De Pere, Wis.

The David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation is a permanent, donor-advised endowment that will generate millions of dollars in grants annually to charitable organizations reflecting charitable interests, primarily in the Fox Cities and Green Bay areas, of the late David and Rita Nelson and their family.

These interests include parks, recreation and waterways; education; health care; community services and community centers; and historic preservation, including lighthouses, museums and historical societies. Other areas of family interest may be considered, as recommended by the fund’s advisory committee.

Grants awarded from the fund in July 2019 (including some anonymous gifts) include:

Nelson’s Point Restoration: $209,000 to The City of Kaukauna for the restoration of observation decks at the 1000 Islands Environmental Center’s Nelson’s Point, named after the late David Nelson’s father, Lewis, who was twice mayor of Kaukauna and a nature enthusiast.

Archiving Displays and Support: $20,000 to the Appleton Historical Society to complete archiving and display projects to preserve and share the varied history of Appleton.

Fox Locks Visitors Center: $300,000 to Fox River Navigational System Authority to support the exhibits, technology and amenities to capture and tell the history of the Fox River.

Executive Director and Planning Support: $90,000 over three years to Friends of Grignon Mansion in Kaukauna to help hire an executive director and conduct strategic planning.

The playground project at High Cliff State Park is moving forward

Playground Project: $100,000 to Friends of High Cliff State Park to build a new playground for the thousands of children and their families who visit High Cliff State Park in Sherwood each year.

Restore Old Engine No. 5: $30,000 to Friends of the Appleton Fire Department as a dollar-for-dollar match opportunity to help with restoration of the historic engine that will become the centerpiece of the fire department museum.

Rock the Block: $25,000 to Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat For Humanity to support the organization’s neighborhood revitalization program.

Ready to Shine Even Brighter Project: $100,000 to Hearthstone Historic House Museum in Appleton to help complete the exterior restoration of the Queen Ann-style residence, which is listed on the state and national historic registers for its technological and artistic significance.

HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital: $250,000 to HSHS St. Vincent/St. Mary’s Foundation which is leading the fundraising efforts to renovate and enhance Green Bay’s first and only children’s hospital, serving Northeast Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Imagine Fox Cities: $20,000 support a community visioning project that will identify the area’s focus for the future.

Career Exploration & Financial Literacy Education Center: $350,000 to Junior Achievement of Wisconsin – Winnebago Area to support a “hands-on, minds-on” experiential learning facility in a newly renovated facility on the Fox Valley Technical College’s campus in Grand Chute.

Revitalize Historic Fassbender Park: $28,000 to Kaukauna High School to help complete the revitalization plan for historic Fassbender Park in the heart of Kaukauna, and to encourage the high school’s Civic Engagement students in their philanthropic learning.

Interactive Learning Garden: $100,000 to Kaukauna Public Library Foundation to help create an innovative outdoor active learning and play area connected to the library.

The historic Lister Hospital Car

Lister Hospital Car Restoration: $83,100 to the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay to complete the restoration of one of the few examples of historic hospital cars existing in the United States today, bringing the passenger car back to the look it had when it transported patients to and from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

Permanent Gallery Renovation: $100,000 to Neville Public Museum Foundation in Green Bay to help sponsor a TV studio interactive exhibit on the gallery’s second floor.

Nonprofit Leadership Initiative (NPLI): $25,000 to the community collaborative effort to provide training and resources to strengthen and support nonprofit leadership in the Fox Valley.

Wequiock Falls Acquisition and Preservation: $155,000 to Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust to expand, restore and make improvements to the 73.8 acres of land stretching from Wequiock Falls to Point au Sable, the largest example of coastal wetlands on Brown County’s east shore.

Sense of Place & Public Education Fellow: $100,000 to Outagamie County Historical Society to help tell the comprehensive history of Appleton and the Fox River Valley, and to hire a public education fellow who will develop STEM-based initiatives and curriculum essential to serving our area schools.

Worker Development & Training Program: $25,000 to St. Vincent de Paul Society in Green Bay to support some of the matching requirements the organization needs to receive other funding in its fiscal year 2020.

Baileys Harbor Range Lights Restoration: $100,000 to The Ridges Sanctuary in Door County to help restore the Baileys Harbor Range Lights, Privy and Oil House.

David L. Nelson Scholarship: $30,000 to the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association to provide an annual $1,000 award to a qualified student attending an accredited Wisconsin college.

Rita E. Nelson Scholarship for Education: $30,000 to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to support the educational needs of non-traditional students intending to become teachers.

State of Wisconsin History Museum: $1 million to the Wisconsin Historical Foundation in Madison for the new Wisconsin history museum, which will incorporate digital distance learning technology allowing classrooms around the state to access museum programs.

Fox Cities Veterans Village: $500,000 to Wisconsin Veterans Village Association in the Fox Cities to develop a first-of-its-kind Veterans Village located in Appleton that will provide housing, support and community to veterans throughout their lives in a veteran-centric culture. The project includes the renovation of existing apartments purposed for single veterans and veteran families, and construction of new facilities to provide transitional housing and permanent housing with assisted living and end-of-life care.

The late David L. Nelson and his wife, Rita lived in De Pere, Wis. David was born in Kaukauna, Wis., and Rita in Janesville, Wis., and both lived in Wisconsin nearly their entire lives. He helped manage the companies that published newspapers in Appleton and Green Bay before investing in radio stations and other businesses. She became a teacher after raising the couple’s three sons. They were married for 73 years and died within five months of each other – Rita on Feb. 16, 2017, at age 93 and David on July 18, 2017, at age 96.


Who were the Nelsons? Learn more about the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund and find out more about this couple here.

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