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Geenens are cross-country philanthropists

Posted on Nov 15, 2017, by

Two cities are benefitting from two Geenen families through two community foundations.

They are just the family for us to model as what National Philanthropy Day is about.

Nov. 15 is National Philanthropy Day, as first declared by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. The Association of Fundraising Professionals describes the day as a celebration of philanthropy —giving, volunteering and charitable engagement. Many local chapters — including the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter — will hold events to recognize outstanding philanthropists in their communities. We are one of the sponsors of the event, being held at the Lambeau Field Atrium.

If there were a category for interstate family philanthropy, the Geenens would be hard to beat.

Bill and Joan Geenen of Appleton have the Geenen Family Fund at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. Son Bill and his wife, Lillie Stewart, recently established a family fund at the Baltimore Community Foundation.

Bill and Joan Geenen display an article about their son and daughter-in-law in the Baltimore Community Foundation’s annual report.

The local Bill Geenen was a top executive at the locally based airline Air Wisconsin and has served on many nonprofit boards. Joan is a longtime volunteer at LEAVEN and a well-known pastel artist. Their son is a graphic artist and painter. Lillie is an acupuncturist and former ballerina. Bill and Lillie have a daughter in college and a son who will graduate from high school at the end of this school year.

Bill is one of three children by birth, but Bill and Joan have, in effect, adopted a fourth through the Community Foundation.

“One of the things we decided long ago was that we would treat the Community Foundation as our fourth child,” the elder Bill said.

When they give annual gifts to their three children, they make a tax-deductible contribution to their family fund in the same amount as a gift to the community. Similarly, they have made arrangements to divide their estate four ways – one share to each child and an equal share to their fund.

By virtue of that future gift, they are members of our Himebaugh Legacy Circle, our way of thanking people now for gifts planned for after they’re gone.

They are confident that by giving to the community through the Community Foundation, the money they leave behind will be invested prudently and the distribution of grants will match their charitable interests. During their lifetimes, they can direct which nonprofit causes receive grant support, and their children can serve as successor advisors.

That kind of commitment to philanthropy doesn’t go unheard by younger ears. While son Bill was already an adult when his parents established their family fund, he said the experience meant he was already familiar with community foundations when their financial advisor suggested Bill and Lillie start a fund at the Baltimore Community Foundation.

Bill said he and Joan differ from the next generation Geenens in their charitable interests. The younger couple is more interested in social activism, he said, while their fund is directed more at family welfare and environmental causes.

It’s all philanthropy. Today, and for all days to come, Baltimore and the Fox Valley will have reason to be grateful for Geenen families.

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