The Stars of KC Philanthropy Shine

The room was filled with generous and humble individuals on Friday, Dec. 7, when local philanthropic leaders gathered together at the Muehlebach Tower of the Kansas City Marriott Downtown to be honored for their contributions to the community.

Along with paying tribute to Ingram’s Philanthropist of the Year, Kent and Charlie Sunderland of the Sunderland Foundation, the luncheon recognized our 2018 Local Heroes and Corporate Champions, who despite their remarkable works, all accepted their awards with understated and deeply appreciative attitudes.

Ingram’s Jack Cashill took to the microphone to briefly interview each award recipient as they rose to be presented their plaque, but first started the program by declaring that Kansas City at that moment stood as the world’s epicenter of philanthropy. Why? The room was filled with some of the most philanthropic organizations and individuals in a city that is known nationally for being among the most charitable in the nation.

No one, we note, rose in objection to that characterization. In the crowd that afternoon were such philanthropic luminaries as Debbie Wilkerson, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation (the region’s largest foundation), Terry Dunn of the Dunn Family Foundation and former CEO of JE Dunn Construction, well-known for donating 10 percent of its profit each year to charitable causes, and past honorees of both the Local Heroes and Corporate Champions recognition programs.

With friendly candor, each person called to the podium then told either their own, or their company’s story and described their journey towards philanthropy.

Representing the pair of brothers who headlined the afternoon’s celebration, Kent Sunderland was the first one up. Among many charitable acts, the Sunderland Foundation announced in September it would give $66 million to the University of Kansas Hospital to complete the last three floors of the Cambridge Tower. This is the largest single donation to the University of Kansas Medical Center in its history, and it came on the heels of an announcement early this year that the foundation would team up with the Hall Family Foundation to put up $75 million—each—with a goal of transforming Children’s Mercy Hospital into a national research institution.

Combined with the traditional causes the foundation funds each year, the gifts issued by the foundation in 2018, in aggregate, were among the largest philanthropic donations the region has seen since the days of the legendary Ewing Kauffman.

In most cities, Sunderland would have been a tough act to follow, but as the 2018 Local Heroes and Corporate Champions came to the stage to also accept their awards, they proved the depth and commitment of Kansas City’s philanthropic community, just as Cashill had promised.

The event was a powerful reminder that, even as big as Kansas City is, there is plenty of room for cross-town and cross-sector relationships and collaborations that drive the region forward—both on the commercial side and on the philanthropic side.