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Eccles Foundation Celebrates 60 Years Of Giving

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – From education to health care to the arts and beyond, the Eccles Foundation has influenced the lives of Utahns throughout the state for decades.

Tuesday marked the 60th anniversary of giving. To date, that number has reached more than $600 million. It is the story of a remarkable legacy.

The founders were George and, as she was known, Lolie Eccles. They shared a vision. They wished to give back to their community and their state.

Spence Eccles, the chairman and CEO, remembered his uncle and aunt’s determination to do good.

“They laid the groundwork and they made it abundantly clear by their example, exactly what they wanted to do with their life savings,” Spence Eccles said. “They had no children, and so everything from both of them flowed into the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation.”

With the portraits of George and Lolie looking on, Spence, COO Lisa Eccles, and Bob Graham, Secretary, Treasurer and General Counsel, met in the board room on the 14th floor of the Wells Fargo building to make decisions about donations, funding and non-profit partnerships.

“We are stewards of their foundation,” Spence Eccles said, “We take that very seriously, and we work every day to make them proud.”

For 60 years, that foundation has provided more than $600 million in charitable gifts.

The Eccles Foundation mission supports thousands of projects in five main areas that affect the quality of life in Utah: Education, where 31 percent of the donations go; Health and Wellness receives 13 percent; Arts and Culture grants amount to 22 percent; Community programs and projects receive 24 percent; and Preservation and Conservation get 10 percent.

For example, in October 2016, the new 2,500-seat Eccles Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City opened its stunning auditorium and stage to Broadway touring companies.

Broadway Tony Award winners, Rita Moreno and Brian Stokes Mitchell both performed for the Gala Opening.

“A new theater, period,” Moreno said. “When things are so very tight in our profession, it’s thrilling!”

“You need all of the people like the Eccles and all of the people who support theaters like this, everybody has to come together. It really is kind of a wonderful community effort.”

The Eccles just returned from Washington, D.C., to watch Ballet West perform its “Nutcracker” to rave reviews. The Eccles Foundation funded the new costumes, props and sets for a premiere at the Capitol Theatre last December.

Sometimes the donation is large and obvious, like the cauldron for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Sometimes it’s smaller but deeply meaningful to individuals, like the young people who benefit from the programs.

On this day, we found Mr. Eccles arm wrestling with the kids at the club.

Jeniya McCullar is the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year.

“The Boys and Girls Club has had a huge impact on me, I guess” McCullar said. “It completely changed my life.”

Leanne Saldivar is President of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake.

“Without the Eccles Foundation, the Boys and Girls Club wouldn’t nearly be serving as many kids as we are in as many low income communities as we are,” she said.

“We just received a $1 million grant from the Eccles Foundation.” That announcement came from park rangers at Zion National Park this year. That donation will repair the Middle Emerald Pools Trail for the millions who hike through Utah’s natural beauty.

Spence and Lisa Eccles acknowledged that issues facing Utahns today are increasingly challenging. I asked about their sense of responsibility as changes come.

“I would just mention that our communities and our state, there are issues and there are challenges on the horizon,”  Lisa Eccles said. “Our society is far more complex than it was 60 years ago, or 35 years ago, since we really started giving major grants after George passed away.”

She said there are issues the board researches and is mindful of, like homelessness, the opioid crisis and clean air.

“Those are areas that we as foundation directors, and there’s just three of us, we can identify,” Lisa Eccles said. “We can work with nonprofits and the state and come to the table, we hope, with meaningful ideas and hopefully funding to make a difference and to move the needle a little bit.”

Spence Eccles added, “One of the finest things we’ve done is Envision Utah.”

“…Which really plans for the future of Utah,” Lisa said. “In transportation, air education, all of the things that we’re concerned about, and that the foundation has funded in the past. “

Lisa Eccles explained that the board meets quarterly but really talks about projects to fund daily.

“It really is a partnership” with the nonprofits, she said.

The nonprofits are the ones that take the programs funded and put boots on the ground.

“They serve their clients, whether it’s the homeless shelter, or the food bank, or the YWCA, serving children and families,” Lisa said. “So they’re a very important part of the story.”

Spence Eccles has always been grateful to be a Utahn.

“We know the state, we know the people, and ‘The Music Man,’ remember, says, ‘You got to know the territory,’” he said. “We now know the territory and are looking forward to the future.”

“The need is so great,” he added “It’s more than any one group can really handle. But more and more not-for-profits with good leadership are coming on stream. And that’s a plus. The challenge is how much the need is ongoing.”

They acknowledged that they can’t — and don’t — do it alone; Utahns are, by nature, generous, they say.

“It’s a great place to live in,” Spence Eccles said. “It’s exciting to recognize how fortunate we are and then to go out there and work with all the other people.”

He said he is inspired every day. He turned to one of the portraits and said simply, “Thanks, Uncle George. Thank you.”

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