Board Member Shares Capital Area United Way History

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One of our newest board members, Scott Jones of Pierre, was recently keynote speaker at the Capital Area United Way Annual Meeting. He shared early history of the South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF) and Capital Area United Way.

"William McKnight, a boy born in a sod house in 1887; and Governor George S. Mickelson, the son of a governor, who took office in 1987, were instrumental in the creation of the SDCF; and one of the SDCF’s first grants was to help launch the Capital Area United Way."

Mr. Jones was on the first steering committee and served as board chair in 1992 and 1993 for the Capital Area United Way. He continues to generously support the organization and its good work.  We are very happy to also have Scott's support and welcome him to our board!

Read his full speech below.

Christina asked me to talk about the early history of the Capital Area United Way, but I’d like to start with an earlier, relevant story.

William McKnight’s parents arrived from the East in 1880 to claim a homestead near White, SD, and he was born in the family’s sod house in 1887. After graduating from Duluth Business University in 1907, he began working for 3M Company as an assistant bookkeeper at a salary of $11.55 per week. After two years, he was put in charge of the company’s Chicago office; and five years later was promoted to general manager at the company’s headquarters in St. Paul. In 1916 he became 3M’s vice president at age 29, and when the company’s president became ill shortly thereafter, McKnight essentially ran 3M until he was officially made company president in 1929. He served as 3M’s president until 1949, and as chairman of the board until 1966. During his 59 year career, he transformed 3M from a sandpaper company on the brink of bankruptcy to a global corporation admired for its innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.

McKnight revealed his basic rule of management in 1948:

“As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way. Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.”

In 1953, McKnight and his wife Maude started the McKnight Foundation. The McKnight Foundation has been honored as one of the nation’s best small workplaces for creating a great place for all of its employees to work regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, job role or other personal characteristics. By 2016 the McKnight Foundation had assets of $2.2 billion, and had made grants of more than $2.3 billion since its founding. One of those grants has had a major impact on South Dakota.

In 1987, when the board of the McKnight Foundation wanted to honor the 100th anniversary of McKnight’s birth, they turned to his home state of South Dakota and offered a challenge: “Start a community foundation, raise $5 million, and along with 3M Company, we’ll match it.”

Governor George S. Mickelson had just taken office earlier that year, and he called his good friend and legislator Bernie Christenson and said, “Let’s do this.” Governor Mickelson persuaded the SD Legislature to donate $2 million, and he told Bernie to go out and raise the other $3 million, and to call him whenever Bernie needed help. Two months ago, the SDCF celebrated its 30th anniversary and today the SDCF has assets of more than $325 million and has made grants of $113 million. I’m convinced that it’s only a matter of time until the SDCF surpasses the McKnight Foundation in size and impact.

A lesser known story is the impact Governor Mickelson had on our United Way. When Governor Mickelson arrived in Pierre, he was surprised that we didn’t have a United Way and offered that if Pierre started one, he would arrange for state employee payroll deduction, as well as authorizing state employee workplace campaigns, throughout South Dakota. The governor’s offer was a big deal not just locally but for United Ways across South Dakota. On August 3, 1988, BankWest hosted 36 community leaders for dinner. Bill Barlow, President and Ted Muenster, Board Chair of the Sioux Empire United Way were guest speakers and they told us how United Way works and answered community questions. It was the unanimous consensus of those attending to start a United Way.

Seven people, including myself, agreed to serve on a Steering Committee, and following a news release, another six people volunteered. We started working on bylaws, guidelines for partner agencies, and director nominations, and by early 1989, the Pierre- Ft. Pierre United Way became a reality. The first board included five cabinet members, and Governor Mickelson agreed to be honorary publicity chairman for the first campaign. First year startup funding included about $6,700 donated by local businesses and individuals, and a $3,500 grant from the new South Dakota Community Foundation!

The 1989 campaign goal was $150,000 with roughly 40% of allocations going to the Oahe YMCA and the remaining 60% to about a dozen other partner agencies. The YMCA had been conducting a $60,000 annual support and debt retirement campaign for about five years, and the UW board decided that we had to avoid competing campaigns (the YMCA in the spring and UW in the fall); so UW agreed to replace most of what the YMCA had been raising in exchange for the YMCA dropping its spring campaign. Bob Brancel of BankWest chaired the first campaign in 1989, State Auditor Vern Larson chaired the 1990 campaign, and I chaired the 1991 campaign.

Along the way there were challenges. Our first executive director Bart Bailey became ill and died in 1990. In 1992, two UW Board (and Mickelson cabinet) members, who were about to become campaign chair and board chair, left for jobs outside SD. Then in 1993 we had two heartbreaking losses- Governor Mickelson and seven others died in a plane crash in April; and Peter DeHueck, who led the state employee campaign every year, and who had agreed to chair the 1993 UW campaign, died of brain cancer.

I was board chair in 1992 and 1993, and agreed to also chair the 1993 and 1994 campaigns. Those campaigns had to deal with the William Aramony scandal. Aramony was the 59 year old, 20-year CEO of United Way of America who was convicted of misappropriating $1.2 million of UWA funds to support, among other things, his affair with a 17 year old girl. I still remember the syndicated cartoon in local newspapers with Aramony standing in front of a United Way logo saying, “Thanks to you, it works for me!”

Despite these challenges, the Pierre- Ft. Pierre UW was proving itself worthy of community support. Partner agency boards, who had previously spent most of their time on fundraising, were able to focus on addressing community needs. Businesses, who had previously done most of the charitable giving, welcomed the hundreds of new individual donors, as well as United Way’s allocations process.

Over the years, the Pierre- Ft. Pierre UW continued to grow as new leaders took the place of the first generation. When my wife Julia became board chair in 2003, I agreed to chair my fourth campaign (We were 4 for 4 making goal in those campaigns, even if we did go into March a couple times to do it).

In 2004, the name was changed to Capital Area United Way. Executive directors Bart Bailey, Catherine Collins-Adler, Gloria Hanson and Christina Oey each built upon the work of their predecessors (and it’s great to see our United Way in such capable hands with Christina). New board leaders embraced their responsibilities and have helped the Capital Area United Way prosper. It has been gratifying to watch this progress from the sidelines, and it’s really quite a story.

William McKnight, a boy born in a sod house in 1887; and Governor George S. Mickelson, the son of a governor, who took office in 1987, were instrumental in the creation of the SDCF; and one of the SDCF’s first grants was to help launch the Capital Area United Way.

For every William McKnight or George S. Mickelson who pulls the big levers of change, there are hundreds more who embrace their vision and take up the work. You are those people, so I thank and congratulate you all. I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished; and I’m eager to see what will be accomplished by future generations of Capital Area United Way leaders.

Thanks for indulging my trip down memory lane. I’ll also share my new gig- I just joined the South Dakota Community Foundation board and will get to do my part to help with the next chapter of its great legacy.

It doesn’t matter whether you work with United Way or with a partner agency; and it really doesn’t matter whether you use the SDCF, or Oahe Foundation, or some other vehicle to do your legacy giving.

What matters is that when you get a chance to make the world a better place, run with it!

Thank you!


Scott Jones, President and CEO, Delta Dental of South Dakota

Capital Area United Way annual meeting keynote, January 18, 2018