Tower renovation receives big grant

Republic file photo Engineers inspect the First Christian Church tower in 2019.

The Friends of First Christian Church Architecture Fund at the local Heritage Fund has secured a long-hoped-for $500,000 Challenge Grant from the Jeffris Family Foundation toward renovation of the iconic church tower.

That puts the current $3.2 million fund drive within $200,000 of its goal — about $40,000 closer than a few weeks ago. So donations are still being solicited at

Wilhelm Contractors is scheduled to begin renovation this month and be finished by November to repair cracks and more in the 165-foot-structure designed in 1942 by acclaimed Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.

Thanks to the generosity of local and out-of-town donors, Friends of First Christian Church raised $1.1 million, which triggered the challenge match gift.

In August 2021, Jeffris Family Foundation, which assists in development of historic sites for nonprofit organizations in several small towns and cities in the Midwest, entered into a grant agreement with Heritage Fund, Landmark Columbus Foundation and First Christian Church that would provide a $1 match for every 2 qualified dollars raised to enable the Save Our Tower project to be realized.

Jeff Logston, project leader of the Save Our Tower campaign, said he is grateful.

“The church is overwhelmed with the support from all groups and individuals inside and outside of the church, and knows that this is the best opportunity to comprehensively and generationally address the structural issues of the tower,” Logston said.

Richard McCoy, executive director of Landmark Columbus Foundation, reached out to Jeffris Family Foundation, headquartered in Janesville, Wisconsin, knowing of its passion for preserving regionally and nationally important historic buildings in the Midwest. The private family foundation provides support for significant projects that strive for high preservation standards and show a strong degree of broad-based public support.

After visiting the Columbus community and meeting with Logston, McCoy and project architect Louis Joyner to learn the details about the proposed reconstruction of the church tower, staff members at Jeffris Family Foundation determined that the project was well-planned and carefully thought through, therefore meeting their criteria for consideration.

“It was a pleasure working with Richard McCoy and the Landmark Columbus Foundation,” said Tom Jeffris, president of Jeffris Family Foundation. “I wish all our projects had such exceptional leadership.”

McCoy praised the organization’s dedication to Midwest preservation.

“The Jeffris Family Foundation has spearheaded other preservation projects in Indiana like the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville and the restoration of Shrewsbury-Windle House in Madison, which earned the nationally prestigious Cook Cup Award,” McCoy said. “They are the largest private funder of preservation projects in the Midwest and known for their attention to detail and preservation standards. Columbus is fortunate to have attracted their attention for this project.”

Tracy Souza, president and CEO of Heritage Fund, said about 70 donors provided donations over the 19-month period to enable the matching funds.

“The partnership formed between Heritage Fund – The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, First Christian Church and Landmark Columbus Foundation is quite special. Each party brings an important component to the table to make this project successful. It has been a joy to work with Jeff Logston and Richard McCoy over the past few years,” Souza said.

McCoy, Logston and Souza said that they look forward to the completion of the project and hopefully a gathering of the key funders to celebrate the accomplishment.

Previous funding for the project also has included a $500,000 Save America’s Treasures grant in the amount of $500,000 from the National Park Service and a $250,000 grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places.

“The generosity, encouragement and gifts from all sources have been overwhelming. To know that such a diverse group from near and far have found an interest in the building, architecture and history and can come alongside together in harmony for a project like this is truly moving,” said Tim Bond, executive minister of First Christian Church.

Donations are still welcomed directly to First Christian Church or to the Friends of First Christian Church Architecture Fund at Heritage Fund.

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