On July 19, 1944, Major Frank Kirby was commanding a task force of approximately 500 soldiers near the town of St. Lo, France just a few miles from Omaha Beach. St. Lo was a major railroad terminal that the Germans were refusing to give up. Major Kirby and his men faced vicious resistance as they fought hedgerow to hedgerow. German artillery saturated Kirby’s position time and time again until he was gravely wounded. He spent the following six years without interruption in eight Army hospitals. For his actions in combat, he received the Silver Star and the French Cross of War.
“I was on the wrong end of a German 88,” said Mr. Kirby in a September 26, 2013 interview. “Hedgerow country was unbelievably difficult.”
Thanks to the support of his wife Joan, Mr. Kirby finished his rehabilitation and came back to his hometown of Portsmouth to start anew. Mr. Kirby said, “The address on my dog tags and in my heart was always Portsmouth.”
While he was rehabilitating, Mr. Kirby read about the Cleveland Foundation, the nation’s oldest community foundation. He thought a similar effort in Portsmouth would allow the community to pull together. Mr. Kirby notes, “That’s what tickled my fancy and got things going.”
As Chairman of the Business of Affairs Committee of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce in the early 1960s, Frank Kirby received the Chamber’s unanimous approval to start a foundation based on the Cleveland model. Originally run as an arm of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, the new entity incorporated as the Portsmouth Community Trust in 1965. Arthur Kirk gave the first $500 to the fledging organization. Those funds were used to help children in urgent need of medical care.
Over the years, the community foundation received a multitude of gifts and bequests, both large and small. Legacy endowments from Arthur and Martha Cherry, Elizabeth Watson, Mildred Foskey-
VanDyke, Lee and Helen Gifford, and many others helped to build the grantmaking power of the foundation. Scholarships legacies were established by or for C.S. Sherwood, C.H. Jordan, Clayton Roberson, and George Bodgan, to name a few.
In the 1970s, the foundation acquired the land and buildings of a residential facility for 30 disabled children. Today, the foundation leases the property to Holiday House for $1 a year.
Other efforts involved giving a year’s discretionary funds in 1986 to help build the YMCA of Portsmouth and a significant grant in 1992 for the first renovation of the Children’s Museum. In 2005, the home for visiting families at the Naval Hospital Portsmouth was sold and the Chisholm House Endowment was formed with the proceeds. Today, the Chisholm House Endowment is a major donor to causes benefitting enlisted personnel.
In 2008, a group just as visionary as Frank Kirby formed the Heron Foundation to benefit the people of Chesapeake. Those people included Josh Gerloff, Dan Grubb, Richard Phillips, Emily Robbins, and Steve Johnson. In July 2010, the Heron Foundation and the Portsmouth Community Foundation merged into the Southeast Virginia Community Foundation so people in Chesapeake and Portsmouth can work together to address their common issues.
The past Board Presidents of the Portsmouth Community Foundation and Southeast Virginia Community Foundation are a virtual who’s who of our community. People like Gloria Creecy, Ashton Lewis, Lynn Wiggins, Al Taylor, Phil Rudisill, Pat Callahan, and Tom Wood have all served with distinction.
The community foundation’s recent history includes a successful campaign to raise money for Pokey Smokey, the children’s train in Portsmouth City Park. In 2012, Dr. Dale and Orva Sponaugle donated a 9,800 square foot office building to the foundation which became the home to the Oasis Opportunity Center, a homeless jobs organization.
We are proud of our past, but even more excited about our future. The foundation recently formed a partnership with TowneBank to start endowment funds for many of our community’s most important institutions. TowneBank and the Southeast Virginia Community Foundation have agreed to invest a total of $500,000 into endowment challenge grants. It’s a start.
Since that first gift of $500, your community foundation has invested more than $11 million into organizations and programs that have improved the quality of life in our community. As we look toward the future, we want to bring together philanthropists, charities and other caring individuals to create a healthy, vibrant and compassionate Hampton Roads. Together, we will ensure that the nonprofit sector has the funds and practical tools for accomplishing its visionary work. Please join with us as we work to make our community the amazing place that we all want it to be.
We thank you.