McCook: Earning Bragging Rights as “Most Ambitious People”

Walt and Jean Sehnert, seated at the entrance of Sehnert’s Bakery and the Bieroc Café, were longtime owners of McCook’s renowned local bakery, which also serves as a gathering place and arts performance venue under the management of Matt Sehnert (wearing a brown t-shirt) and his wife Shelly (standing behind him). Walt and Jean’s daughter, Susan Stuart of Lincoln, has issued a challenge grant to the volunteer fundraisers pictured here.

After completing a big fundraising campaign, one might expect volunteers to “take a break.” For many in the NCF network, however, raising charitable assets energizes the community.

In 2012, McCook Community Foundation Fund’s unrestricted endowment totaled about $181,000. Volunteers were offered a challenge grant and quickly met their two-to-one match 20 months ahead of schedule. This added $750,000 to their unrestricted endowment. Almost immediately, the Fund accepted another challenge, this one from the Arvene and Neva Myers family. The successful and early completion of this challenge raised another $270,000. Within four years, the community had built an unrestricted endowment valued at $1.3 million.

The growth in assets greatly increased the Fund’s capacity to distribute more high-impact grants from the earnings on its endowment – in addition to the nearly 30 separate accounts the Fund holds for designated purposes ranging from youth entrepreneurship to leadership opportunities.

But there are many more assets – both financial and human – in place and ready to be realized. McCook (pop. 7,698) is a hotspot for arts and culture. For years it has hosted the Buffalo Commons storytelling festival. The Prairie Roots music festival draws hundreds. On a regular basis, people pack the Bieroc Café to enjoy both local and national touring acts.

Not surprisingly, when Susan Stuart of Lincoln honored her parents, Walt and Jean Sehnert, by offering a $100,000, two-to-one challenge grant earlier this year, the match was quickly met. Ms. Stuart doubled the challenge, and the Fund accepted. More than two dozen volunteers and donors actively sought pledges and contributions for the “Sehnert Challenge,” for arts, culture, and community, and again, within less than a year, they met their goal.

When successfully completed, the Fund had endowed funds of more than $3 million, creating an annual payout of more than $100,000 to unleash new energy – each and every year – in this truly remarkable community.

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