The Business of Philanthropy

Tab 1

Spring 2012

Fred Hedberg was just 13 years old in 1906 when    his Swedish immigrant father died in a tragic   streetcar accident. As a result, young Fred quit the eighth grade to help care for his widowed mother    and sisters. He took over his father’s small business running a horse-drawn sprinkling wagon for the city of Minneapolis, working long hours to tame the dust on the city’s unpaved streets.


Later, as a young man, Fred Hedberg found work digging basements and making small concrete blocks by hand on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Through sheer grit and some fortuitous connections, Fred opened a number of sand and gravel mines and Ready Mix concrete plants around the Twin Cities area.


When Fred Hedberg died in 1984, he left his widow, Dorothy, with significant assets. And thus a new challenge arose for the Hedberg

family: what to do with the money saved from Fred Hedberg’s lifetime of hard work.


Encouraged by her only son, John Hedberg, Dorothy set up the Hedberg Family Foundation in 1986, just four years before she herself passed away.


“Through our family foundation, we can teach our kids and our grandkids what it means to be a family that gives” - John Hedberg


The $1 million foundation then transferred into the hands of John, daughter-in-law Jean Hedberg and, by 1991, the four grandchildren, Steve, Peter, Carrie, and Tom.


“Grandad and Nana were frugal and thoughtful people,” says granddaughter Carrie (Hedberg) Stucky. “I think all of us took very seriously this idea of a family foundation, of doing good works with the money, and never wasting a dollar of it.”


With help from U.S. Bank’s Charitable Services Group, the Hedbergs sat down and established guidelines and priorities for their foundation that spoke to them as a family: supporting medical research; promoting justice, freedom, and peace through the rule of law; promoting humane care of dogs and other living creatures; advocating for the protection and care of the land and environment; and promoting the education, care, and well being of children, teenagers, and young adults.

Tab 2

Spring 2012

“For our private foundation, we act as the family’s foundation office, handling the administration, due diligence, tax returns and follow up reports,” ex- plains Sally Godfrey, Vice President of The Charitable Services Group at U.S. Bank. “One of the most important things we do is to help families understand the grant making process and how to potentially maximize the impact of their grants to better accomplish what they are trying to do in the world.”


The first of the Hedbergs’ bolder initiatives was a $200,000 grant to the Minneapolis Park Board in 1993 to connect Minneapolis’ complex bike trail system to the Cedar Lake area, where Nana and Granddad Hedberg lived for decades and where John Hedberg was raised. The Hedbergs’ contribution would become the catalyst for the paved Cedar Lake Trail, America’s first “bicycle freeway.”


The family has also given grants to well-established charities and nonprofits such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Animal Humane Society, and Children’s Heartlink.

An intensely outdoorsy clan of fishermen, campers, and hikers, the Hedbergs then discovered Wilderness Inquiry (W.I.), an innovative nonprofit that takes urban schoolchildren from Minneapolis and St. Paul on outdoor excursions, such as paddling adventures down the Mississippi River. With W.I., the Hedbergs marked another milestone, becoming the first (and only) family foundation to commission handmade cedar strip canoes at a cost of $12,000 each for the nonprofit. The two boats, christened “Itasca” and “New Orleans,” can hold up to 10 kids and two wilderness instructors and feature western red cedar hulls, mahogany seats, and cherry gunnels.


“Each canoe helps us serve 1,000 additional kids each year, and each boat is handcrafted in St. Paul and expected to last between 30 and 50 years,” says Sarah Milligan-Toffler, Associate Executive Director at Wilderness Inquiry.


Also near to the family’s collective heart was working with Minnesota Land Trust to preserve the 72-acre Church Island in the middle of Bay Lake, near Brainerd, Minnesota. The Hedberg family has owned land on Bay Lake for decades, and the Hedberg grandchildren have fond memories of camping in tents on the land before the family constructed two log cabins.

Tab 3

Spring 2012

But perhaps the most personal example is the $750,000 donated towards the Hedberg

Family/Children’s Cancer Research Fund endowed chair at the University of Minnesota for brain tumor research. Chair occupant John Ohlfest, PhD is exploring a new therapy that uses a patient’s own immune cells to destroy tumor stem cells. The work resonates so deeply with the Hedbergs because one of the great-grandchildren, Anda Moettus, developed a brain tumor at age four. Treatment kept her alive, but the tumor left her with many cognitive and physical challenges.


“I think giving often comes from a kernel of need you’ve experienced yourself,” says Peter Hedberg, Anda’s father. “We don’t spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back, but I think that Anda would be proud if she knew how much her family has rallied behind this cause.”

Though the foundation has primarily been a two-generation affair for the vast majority of its 26 years, the time is soon coming for the 12 great-grandchildren of Fred and Dorothy Hedberg to begin exploring philanthropy through the foundation.


“The whole idea of setting up this foundation, rather than Jean and I just making charitable contributions, was to set up a kind of living institution, where we can teach our children and grandchildren about what it means to be a family that gives,” John says.


Son Tom adds: “We’ve learned that regardless of the size of a foundation, one can make an impact and contribute in meaningful ways.”


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