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Editorial: Area family’s foundation established legacy of help

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The Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation has been spending down its assets and will be gone within several years. But it will never be forgotten.

How could it be? Just look around Columbus.

The late J. Irwin Miller and other family members spearheaded the contemporary community vision for the city with progressive thinking, philanthropic endeavors and collaborations with local individuals and organizations.

The Commons, Henry Moore’s “Large Arch” in front of the library and the Dale Chihuly chandelier in the Columbus Area Visitors Center are here because of the family foundation’s efforts.

The foundation was the vehicle through which grants were made that helped meet the needs of Columbus and its residents. Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation’s assistance helped launch Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center in 1994 and later supported Lincoln-Central’s plan to open Yes Cinema.

Other local-assistance agencies such as Love Chapel, Horizon House and the United Way of Bartholomew County also received support from the foundation. Education initiatives, such as alternative education, English as a Second Language and kidscommons, were funded.

The foundation started in 1952 with Nettie Sweeney Miller; her children, J. Irwin Miller and Clementine Tangeman; her sister, Elsie Irwin Sweeney; and close family associate George W. Newlin serving as the original board members. Later, J. Irwin Miller’s wife, Xenia, served on the board, as did their children (Margaret, Catherine, Elizabeth, Hugh and Will), their children’s spouses and Tangeman’s stepson, John.

Originally, the family members provided grants to charities in which they had a personal interest, and often they were national in scope, such as for civil rights efforts. However, the foundation shifted its focus to local endeavors in the 1970s. Since its creation, it has donated more than $57 million to efforts in Bartholomew County, which translates to more than $101 million in today’s dollars.

This commitment to the Columbus community continued after J. Irwin and Xenia Miller died, in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Instead of dividing the foundation into five separate ones for each of their children, board members focused the assets on the community, particularly the revitalization of downtown Columbus.

The foundation’s gift-giving total includes its final local contribution of $2 million to the Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, announced Feb. 3. The gift boosts the Heritage Fund’s asset growth campaign and establishes the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Fund through the Heritage Fund — a nice way for the family’s legacy to endure.

Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation has been one of the most important entities in the community’s history. The time, effort and assistance provided by its members to make Columbus and Bartholomew County better have been invaluable.

The family’s impact has been large, and its legacy will be lasting.

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