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Foundation makes $2 million gift


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The family oriented Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation, which has donated more than $57 million to efforts in Bartholomew County, has made a final local gift of $2 million.

The gift is to boost an asset growth campaign for the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County. The Heritage Fund is attempting to grow assets by $20 million in five years.

The gift establishes the Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Fund through the Heritage Fund, continuing an element of the family foundation’s philanthropy.

“It’s a wonderful gift,” said Tracy Souza, Heritage Fund president and CEO. “We really are thrilled and honored.”

Though the latest donation clearly is generous, the foundation’s largest single local gift in recent years was $3 million toward construction of the new The Commons, according to Sarla Kalsi, Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation executive director. But it also has made other, larger gifts to causes such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The 62-year-old Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation announced four years ago it would end its gift-giving operations. This contribution is part of the foundation’s spend-down.

It still will spend other money locally in the future, including funding 16 decorative panels costing $115,769 for the Jackson Street parking garage by summer. It also continues to spend funds with ongoing commitments, such as with the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

Because of those projects, Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation leaders say it’s tough to pinpoint a foundation closing date. Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation Chairwoman Lynne Maguire and Kalsi said it could be one or two years from now.

Through the years, family members behind the fund have been traditionally publicity shy about their generosity and efforts, preferring instead to fix the spotlight on the work they were supporting.

“You know the family has never liked putting its name out there prominently for the sake of recognition,” said Maguire, daughter-in-law of J. Irwin and Xenia Miller, who helped launch the foundation in 1952. “ISMF always has tried to be a catalyst for positive change in the community. And that is the legacy we’d like to leave with this gift. Now the Heritage Fund is carrying on that tradition.”

Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation board members have long been professionally and personally familiar with the Heritage Fund’s work. Maguire served on the Heritage Fund board from 2006 to 2012. And Kalsi served from 2005

to 2012.

Even the property and building the Heritage Fund occupies at 538 Franklin St. in Columbus was a gift from Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation in 2002, said Souza.

Souza said Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation’s impact has been more than dramatic.

“They have helped so very many nonprofits in this community,” Souza said. “Their reach, their expertise and the depth of their knowledge has just been astounding. We have been really fortunate. They have touched the lives of so many folks in this community.”

Kalsi continues work on

behalf of Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation from her Columbus home in what she terms her retirement. She feels “just very, very blessed” to have worked with the Miller family and the foundation.

“I’ve had the best job in the whole world,” she said. “The best part has been being able to see what a difference we can make in the community. Because we really have wanted to make a difference, and were certainly not concerned about self-glorification.”

The Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation was established by Nettie Sweeney Miller; her children, J. Irwin Miller, a longtime leader of the then-Cummins Engine Co., and Clementine Tangeman; her sister, Elsie Irwin Sweeney; and family friend, George Newlin.

It has been a major supporter of numerous community initiatives such as The Commons, kidscommons children’s museum, Mill Race Park, Su Casa, the Columbus Area Visitors Center, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. alternative education program, Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center and Love Chapel.

According to statistics prepared by the foundation staff, Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation and members of the Miller family have donated what would translate to more than $100 million in today’s dollars for Bartholomew County projects.

The decision to eventually spend down the assets was made following the death of J. Irwin Miller in 2004. His wife, Xenia, died in 2008.

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