The Zacchaeus Fund Distributes $180,000 to Local Nonprofits Working to Fight Homelessness and Assist People in Recovery 

The Zacchaeus Fund Distributes $180,000 to Local Nonprofits Working to Fight Homelessness and Assist People in Recovery 

Every person deserves a safe place to fall asleep at night.  With frigid weather blanketing the area, this reality is pushed to the forefront, and we are thankful for local nonprofit organizations working to address homelessness and provide recovery support and safety for vulnerable individuals seeking emergency and transitional housing.  The Community Foundation of Marquette County (CFMC), on behalf of the Zacchaeus Fund, is pleased to announce the distribution of $180,000 in grants to nonprofits across Marquette County to support the important work of fighting homelessness and assisting people in recovery.  The Zacchaeus Fund recipients include Great Lakes Recovery Centers for $50,000, The Women’s Center of Marquette for $40,000, Janzen House $30,000, the Room at the Inn $30,000 and Superior Connections RCO $30,000.

“This generosity is of great significance.” shares Zosia Eppensteiner, CFMC CEO, “The Community Foundation of Marquette County feels humbled and grateful to partner with anonymous donors who have established The Zacchaeus Fund to support local nonprofits who work to address the issues of homelessness and recovery.”

Jennine Frazier, Executive Director at the Women’s Center stated, “From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to the Community Foundation who helped establish a fund where caring community members can make a real and impactful difference in the lives of survivors of domestic and sexual violence.  The donors who are part of this fund understand the critical needs in our community.”

The Zacchaeus Fund was established to address the cycle of addiction and homelessness and support vulnerable populations toward recovery and stable housing.  In partnership with the Community Foundation of Marquette County, The Zacchaeus Fund has provided invaluable support for these nonprofits and their missions both with this immediate grant funding and the goal of growing this fund to support these issues in the long-term.


left to right Brent Clark, Director, Janzen House; Zosia Eppensteiner, CEO, Community Foundation of Marquette County; Susan Payant, President, Janzen House; and Robert Kulisheck, Vice President, Janzen House. 

Celebrating the Joy of Clean Laundry

Celebrating the Joy of Clean Laundry

North Star Montessori Academy students, who are enjoying the school’s
brand new laundry room, made a sign to thank the Community Foundation
and the donor who sponsored the project.

Finding solutions to community needs, whether they’re large or small, usually takes time, hard work and persistence. Sometimes, generosity from unexpected places helps a lot, too.

Last November, the Community Foundation received a funding request from North Star Montessori Academy for a small, but important need. North Star is a Pre-K-12 public school in Marquette.

In 2019, Megan Coombs, a Pathways to Potential Success Coach employed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, noticed that some students came to school with clothes that hadn’t been washed or that had already been worn during the week. While most of us take being able to do our laundry for granted, Coombs noted, “Some families do not have the means to buy a washer and dryer or even to go to a laundromat.”

What finally drove the need home for her was a third-grade student and her sibling, a first grader, who often came to school with dirty clothes or clothes that didn’t fit them. She reached out to the students’ family and learned about the specific hardships and challenges they were dealing with. She knew she had to do something to address the school’s need for an on-site laundry room.

North Star serves a large number of families (56%) that are economically disadvantaged. In Marquette County, the overall poverty rate is 13.6 percent (an income of $27,750 or less for a family of four). Poverty means not being able to meet some of your family’s basic needs, including laundry.

North Star Students with Pathways to Potential Coach Megan Coombs (left), Superintendent/Principal Andrea Ballard (center) and Dean of Students Dave Gilbert (right).

With support from the school’s administrative staff, Coombs decided to raise funds to purchase a washer, dryer and utility sink for the school. The school first had to apply for a permit to install the appliances. In September 2021, North Star finally got the thumbs up to proceed with the project.

Coombs turned to the Community Foundation to fund the project, and the timing was perfect. Zosia Eppensteiner, Community Foundation CEO explained, “We were able to connect with an anonymous donor, for whom the project was a good fit.” She continued, “By connecting a possible donor with a need, we can have an immediate impact on families and children right away — like the students at North Star. What’s amazing with our work at the Community Foundation is we often discover there’s a network of people and relationships who will be supportive around the needs of the community. And you never know what people in the community will connect with.”

To complete the project, Coombs reached out to another donor to pay for the cost of plumbing. After supply chain and other delays, the washer and dryer finally arrived and were installed earlier this month. The kids and the staff at North Star are celebrating their new laundry room, which is decorated with thank you notes to the donors.

Coombs said, “This project has been a labor of love, from October 2019, when I first inquired about adding a washer and dryer into the school, until it finally being completed on April 14. In the first week we’ve had it, it’s already been used four or five times. I’m super thankful that the donation came in to purchase the washer and dryer [so that we are able] to fulfill the needs of the children that are here.”

Andrea Ballard, superintendent and principal at North Star added, “I think it’s wonderful. It’s something we’ve discussed for many years and for it to actually happen is great for our school and our students.”

Paul F. Blewett Legacy Funds Distribute Over $75,000

Paul F. Blewett Legacy Funds Distribute Over $75,000

The Paul F. Blewett Legacy Funds were established at the Community Foundation of Marquette County in 2010, to provide support to multiple local and regional organizations that Paul cared most about. This year, a total of $ 76,192.65 was distributed. Following the wishes of the donor, the fund supported eighteen organizations this year, including: Bethany Lutheran Church, Michigan Education Association, National Education Association Foundation, National Planned Parenthood, Ishpeming High School, Ishpeming Skiers Training Facilities, Inc., Bark River Harris School District, The American Civil Liberties Union, WNMU FM 90 Radio, National Public Radio, American Cancer Society, National Alzheimer’s Association, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp, Salvation Army & Salvation Army – Ishpeming, and American Red Cross.

Amanda Rasner, Camp Director at Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp, had the following to say: “Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp is honored to receive money through the disbursement from the Paul F. Blewett Fund through the Community Foundation of Marquette County.  These funds have been earmarked for a Young Adult Retreat emphasizing self-care that will take place in February of 2022 at Fortune Lake…. The main hurdle for hosting this event had been funding, as young adults may not have the financial resources to attend a full weekend retreat.  With the reception of the Blewett funds, this hurdle has been removed, and we can continue to prepare for what we hope will be a first annual retreat.  The money will provide sponsorships for up to 23 young adult participants from throughout the U. P. and Northern WI.”

Born in Ishpeming in 1940, Paul Blewett studied at Michigan Technological University and Northern Michigan University, where he received a master’s degree in mathematics. He enjoyed a nearly 43-year career as a math teacher at Bark River-Harris High School. He also gave back as a volunteer and officer in many different education associations, most notably as a member of the Board of Directors for the Michigan Education Association for 24 years. His biggest fulfillment came from seeing the students he taught excel at school and in life. Paul was a lifetime member of the Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming, where he enjoyed taking photographs for weddings and church functions. He died in 2009, leaving behind his legacy of giving back to the community and organizations he loved and respected.

2021 Annual Celebration Honors Community Who Make a Difference

2021 Annual Celebration Honors Community Who Make a Difference

The 2021 Annual Celebration took place at NMU on Wednesday, September 22. The evening included Catalyst Awards presentations, prize drawings from Donckers and the Delft, the first Range Bank Clean Energy Grant award, and a special announcement for the Jumpstart a Heart project.

“The Annual Celebration is a way for the Community Foundation staff and Board of Trustees to say thank you,” says CEO Zosia Eppensteiner. “We thank the donors, businesses and funders who invest in our community, and the people and organizations who work tirelessly to make Marquette County a place that helps all citizens thrive.”

Each year, the Board of Trustees nominate individuals, organizations, and businesses to receive Catalyst Awards. These awards recognize the efforts of those that help build community through volunteerism or philanthropy and inspire others to do the same. Four awards were presented at this year’s Annual Celebration.

The Range Bank Clean Energy grant, which was established this year to assist non-profits with investing in energy saving projects and education, was presented to Lake Superior Lifecare & Hospice. The grant will help the organization complete an energy saving insulation project. Range Bank President and CEO Roxanne Daust presented the grant to Lake Superior Lifecare & Hospice CEO Jennifer Voegtline.

Earlier this year, the Community Foundation partnered with the Marquette County Law Enforcement Administrator’s Association (MCLEAA) with the goal to raise over $81,000 to replace outdated lifesaving equipment carried by law enforcement. The effort, called Jumpstart a Heart, will allow MCLEAA to purchase 38 Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) for law enforcement across the county.

Thanks to the many generous donors that included several individuals and businesses, the fundraising goal was met. Grants from West End Health Foundation, Frazier Fund, Ray and Peg Hirvonen Foundation, Superior Health Foundation, Negaunee Area Community Fund, and Marquette Area Community Fund made a major impact helping the project reach its goal. Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt and Corporal Jennifer Best represented MCLEAA at the Annual Celebration to accept the grant. 

Johanna Pohjala Fund for Weavers : Fund Spotlight

Johanna Pohjala Fund for Weavers : Fund Spotlight

A loom made by Matt Riihinen in Negaunee during the winter of 1945-1946.
Photo courtesy of Christine Simonen

This loom has a fascinating history, and helped inspire the Johanna Pohjala Fund for Weavers, a field of interest fund established at the Community Foundation of Marquette County in 2003.

Johanna Pohjala (1919 – 2003) was born on Case Street in Negaunee. Her parents, Anna (Kotka) and Matt Riihinen were Finnish immigrants who settled on the Riihinen farm in Negaunee. Like so many immigrants to the area at the time, Matt worked in the iron mines to supplement their income from the farm. During the Finnish-Russian War in 1939, Matt received numerous donations of secondhand clothing from customers along his dairy route. The Riihinen’s sent as much as they could to Finland, but much of it was of poor quality. Anna requested a loom to make rag rugs with the clothing. Matt, who was also a blacksmith and woodworker, built the loom almost entirely from lumber harvested on their property over the winter of 1945-1946.

Johanna was Matt and Anna’s only child, and she graduated from Negaunee High School in 1937. She married Sulo E.Pohjala in 1941, and ten years later they moved to the Riihinen farm to help care for her parents. Johanna began weaving on the loom in 1952, and this began a journey of over 50 years weaving rugs on this loom.

Johanna Pohjala on the loom in 1954. Photo courtesy of Christine Simonen

As a toddler, Johanna spent over a year traveling in Finland with her parents and stayed in contact with her Finnish cousins. Her Finnish background influenced her weaving, and the more she created, the more her craftsmanship was widely recognized. Orders for Johanna’s rugs came from all over the U.P. and the country. As a member of the local weaving guild, Yarnwinders, Johanna explored different techniques and patterns in her rugs. In September 2000, Johanna was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the U.P. Weavers Exchange annual conference.

Johanna Pohjala, Rosepath Rug, Collection Michigan State University Museum

In the 1990’s Michigan State University Professor Yvonne Lockwood travelled to the Upper Peninsula to interview rug weavers. Her research was published as a book titled, “Finnish American Rag Rugs: Art, Tradition & Ethnic Continuity”. MSU Press published the book in 2010. Johanna was one of eight weavers featured in the chapter titled, “Weavers”. The Michigan State University Museum holds some of Johanna’s rugs in their textile collection.

Johanna was also a poet, educator, and traveler. A charter member of the Finnish Language Class in Negaunee, Johanna served as a substitute for well-known Finnish language educator Tanya Stanaway. Three more trips to Finland allowed Johanna to stay close to her Finnish family and heritage. She was a translator of family histories and correspondence for several different Finnish families. She was also a published poet, writing in both English and Finnish.

Christine Simonen, Johanna’s daughter, established the Johanna Pohjala Fund for Weavers at the Community Foundation of Marquette County in 2003 after her mother’s passing. The purpose of the fund is to create opportunities, for fiber artists and fiber arts education in Marquette County. This fund has supported Yarnwinders and Lake Superior Art Association to create educational programs and exhibitions around the tradition of weaving.

Christine Simonen (bottom right) with her husband Fred after delivering the loom to The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in 2017. At left are Karen Greenly (standing) and Robyn Sendelbach (sitting).

And what about the loom? Christine took up her mother’s interest in weaving but knew the loom needed a permanent home that would fully appreciate and care for this historically significant artifact. In 2017, the family donated the loom to The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, in Vista, California. The Museum is a nonprofit that “collects, preserves and displays examples of mechanical ingenuity and crafts associated with the early days of the American farm and rural community”. The loom is on permanent display with over 50 other looms from all over the country. The loom is still fully operational, and is utilized for demonstrations by museum volunteer weavers.

COVID-19 Community Response Fund Grant Provides Support for PPE Needs in Marquette County Schools

COVID-19 Community Response Fund Grant Provides Support for PPE Needs in Marquette County Schools

COVID-19 Community Response Fund Grant Provides Support for PPE Needs in Marquette County Schools

Through a collaborative effort with local school districts, the Community Foundation of Marquette County and United Way of Marquette County recently announced a grant to Marquette-Alger Regional Education Service Agency (MARESA) to support the purchase of personal protective equipment, including masks, for Marquette County schools. The $7,400 grant was made possible by the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, which is administered by the Community Foundation in partnership with United Way of Marquette County.

“These types of collaborative efforts have a meaningful impact in our community,” says Andrew Rickauer, Executive Director of United Way of Marquette County. “I am really pleased to be part of helping our local youth so that they are safe and can return to in person learning.”

The grant will allow MARESA will coordinate a bulk order of PPE, including masks, after the schools expressed a need as they prepare for the school year.

“After hearing there was a need for PPE in Marquette County schools, we were able to utilize funds from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund to assist,” says Community Foundation CEO Zosia Eppensteiner.   “With much uncertainty going into this school year, our hope is that this grant allows the schools to be prepared if the PPE is needed. Collaborating among organizations to provide a quick response to a community need is exactly what the Community Response Fund was set up to do.”

The COVID-19 Community Response fund was established in 2020 to support the needs of the community and nonprofits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, over $178,000 has been raised and over $160,000 in grants have been distributed. Grants have supported the community in a multitude of ways, from purchasing food for senior meal programs, to at-home craft kits for youth, to supplies for organizations assisting homeless populations.