Potter Family Foundation Fund
Potter Family Foundation strengthens legacy through transition to Quad Cities Community Foundation
Established in 1959, the Potter Family Foundation has focused on improving the lives of Quad City area residents. Since its inception, the Potter Family Foundation has granted over 1.3 million dollars to almost 90 non-profit organizations.
As of September 2015, the Potter Family Foundation has joined in partnership with the Quad Cities Community Foundation, and has become a fund of the Community Foundation. The Potter Family Foundation Fund will no longer be accepting grant applications as it has in the past. It will continue to support priority needs in the Quad City area, and will be making grants through a granting strategy directed by the Community Foundation. The Community Foundation is proud of this new partnership, and humbled by the opportunity to provide ongoing stewardship to the Potter family’s legacy for this community.
For Patty Renfro, the transition of her family’s charitable foundation into a community fund managed by the Quad Cities Community Foundation is a natural next step that will continue the family’s legacy of generosity and civic-minded principles in the Quad Cities region.
“It’s the responsible thing to do,” said Renfro, the youngest daughter of the late John W. Potter. “It will continue to help people and a community that our family cares so much about.”
The Potter family had a significant influence on Rock Island and regional news for more than 100 years, owning multiple media outlets, including WHBF radio, TV stations, and the Rock Island Argus. The family sold the last of the businesses 30 years ago.
The Potter Family Foundation was founded in 1959 and has provided support to almost 90 organizations during its five decades of operation. “We want to continue in that vein,” Renfro said, “and know the Quad Cities Community Foundation can help us do that in the best way.”
In addition to the family foundation, one of the family’s most significant contributions to the community was the newspaper business, which saw its first generational succession in 1936 when Minnie Potter passed away. Her sons, John W. and Ben H. became co-publishers until John’s death in 1947 at the age of 50. Ben and sister Marguerite F. then became co-publishers and Ben became editor of the Argus until he died in 1971, at the age of 74. Marguerite, who became president of the J.W. Potter Co. and the Rock Island Broadcasting Company, died in 1981 at the age of 90. Management of the Argus then passed to the next generation. John W. Potter, son of the late John W. Potter, became publisher in 1971.
Family members have since become spread out geographically, making it more challenging to pass management of the foundation down to the next generation, said John Potter, the son of the first late John W. Potter. John Potter now lives in Connecticut. “This is a great opportunity to continue our family’s legacy in the community,” he said.
Molly Hambacker, who is the eldest of the three siblings and now lives in Arizona, said she admired her family. Her father, she said, taught his children to put other people first. “If you are able to help, it wasn’t that you should… it was that you must,” Hambacker added. “He was smart—he was a visionary.”
Renfro said the new fund at the Community Foundation will not be restricted to certain individuals or organizations. Rather than accepting separate grant applications, it will support priority needs within the immediate Quad Cities region, through a granting strategy directed by the Community Foundation. Charities that have been funded in the past will receive special consideration.
This is something especially important and meaningful to Elizabeth Anne DeLong. The daughter of Anne Potter DeLong, who was the daughter of Ben H. Potter, said it was an honor to work on the family foundation and continue the commitment to the community her mother and extended family left.
“It was rewarding to meet the beneficiaries of the gifts and learn how we were able, in some small part, to effect a change in their lives,” DeLong said. With the foundation’s transition to the Community Foundation, “we hope to continue our relationships with so many of the great programs we have worked with over the decades. For generations, we have proudly and quietly tried to help our community members.”
"The Potter family is a great example of the value in a partnership between the Community Foundation and a family wanting to preserve both its giving and its legacy," said Barb Melbourne, Vice President of Development. “A lot of private family foundations like the Potter's, that have been running well for decades, look ahead to the future, and sometimes they see that mobility and geographic location are an issue—especially with younger generations,” she said. “The Community Foundation is really able to offer support for a succession plan that keeps a legacy—and a donor’s philanthropic desires—alive forever.”
It is comforting to know that the family’s deep connection to the community will be preserved and honored through the Community Foundation, Renfro said, because her father, uncle and aunt cared so much about the people and organizations in Rock Island and the surrounding area.
“They were very community-minded, civic-minded, and proud of Rock Island,” Renfro said.
With the change has come reminiscing. “It makes you look back on things,” she said. “There’s nostalgia.”