Cultivating Red Cloud’s philanthropic spirit

Like many young Nebraskans, Willa Cather Foundation Executive Director Ashley Olson returned to her hometown to build a life in the community that raised her. She’s grateful to have found her place in Red Cloud, where she also serves on the Red Cloud Community Fund Advisory Committee.

Since her return, Olson has joined her neighbors in making Red Cloud shine brighter than ever. The community cultivates a collaborative spirit, exemplified by partnerships between The Willa Cather Foundation, city officials, RCCF, and the Chamber of Commerce. One such effort resulted in the hiring of a tourism director, Jarrod McCartney, who has furthered Red Cloud’s position as a cultural touchstone for Nebraska. Another group effort led to the 2018 opening of The Valley Child Development Center, a state-of-the-art early childhood education center. Local volunteers raised $2.2 million to make this ambitious dream a reality.

“Red Cloud residents really understand that in order to build and sustain our community, we as the people who live and work here every day have to be willing to support it charitably in order to build and sustain the type of place that people want to live and work and visit,” Olson said.

For Olson and McCartney, the transfer of wealth offers a test for Red Cloud’s philanthropic spirit – one that, if passed, could propel the community to greater heights.

“I saw it as a tremendous opportunity,” McCartney said when asked what he thought when he first learned the figures for Webster County. Through the next 10 years, the county is expected to see $350 million transfer. Just 5% captured would inject nearly $18 million back into the community. McCartney, Olson, and their compatriots in Red Cloud know they can’t wait on government grants or angel investors to achieve their dreams – but they now know all the wealth they could ever use is right at home.

“What really will save our community is the community itself,” McCartney said.

And that starts on an individual level. Beyond inspiring others to give, Olson wanted to give something back to the place that raised her. By making a beneficiary designation, the young parent found a way to leave something for the community while preparing for her daughter’s future. It was a simple, quick process that will have lasting impact.

“You can’t ask others to do something you haven’t done yourself,” she said. “I thought it was important to lead by example.”

In this audio story, Ashley and Jarrod describe the ways philanthropy is transforming their hometown of Red Cloud:


Reach out to your professional advisor to learn how you can give and consult Nebraska Community Foundation’s Planned Giving resources for more information. You can also contact NCF’s Office of Gift Planning by calling 402-323-7330 or sending an email to

When we all leave five, our hometowns thrive.

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