Dorothy Coover: A Story of Foresight and Philanthropy

Feb 9, 2017

Today on Making a Difference: Stories of Hope and Help, The Foresight and Philanthropy of Julia Dorothy Coover.

Over the past 15 years, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks has distributed more than 400 grants totaling nearly $5million from the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation, in partnership with Commerce Bank/ Commerce Trust Company.  Mrs. Coover established this unrestricted fund, giving volunteer committees the ability to grant funds annually to needs she would have not been able to anticipate. 

Here to talk about the generosity and philanthropic vision of Dorothy Coover are, the CFO’s Grant Program Officer Bridget Dierks, and Jill Reynolds, Vice President at Commerce Trust, and Chair Emeritus of the CFO, who shares some of what she knows about Dorothy Coover...

“Mrs. Coover pre-dates me at Commerce Bank/Commerce Trust Company, but I’m happy to share with you my understanding of what I do know about Mrs. Coover. She and her husband Lewis, never had children.  I know she was a 30-40 year employee at Commerce Bank, a very long time bank officer.  At the peak of her career and time of her retirement, she was head of head of the Proof Department, and that’s why it really thrills us at Commerce Bank/Commerce Trust Company to be a part of this, because she was one of our own.  But in any event, she obviously had a charitable heart, and was crazy about her community and wanted to help others in need, and we’re grateful to be a part of this, and be a part of it into the future.”

Bridget Dierks shares the significance,  “Yeah, it’s kind of strange magic what happens when someone leaves a meaningful trust, and for years and decades later, it significantly impacts your community in so many ways.  Her fund has granted almost 4.7 million dollars already, since we started giving Coover Grants in 2002, so it’s had an enormous impact.”

Reynolds agrees:  “And to look over the past decade and then some, on the impact it’s had, and the number of persons positively affected by this has been so tremendous and awesome.”

Bridget Dierks says she’s excited by the Coover Trust’s growth:    “One of the coolest things about Coover, is how over the course of time, we began to really focus on the region instead of just Springfield, and at this point it’s almost all regional dollars, because we have such a significant regional need for grant-making in rural Missouri, and Coover is one of the few that non-profits out in the region can apply to.  And the grants are really wide ranging.  We have funded the repair of the roof of the Senior Center in Gainesville, we’re funding things like back-pack programs, and we helped fund expansions of Care to Learn in other communities that weren’t able to do it themselves.  We’ve been involved in a wide variety of purposes, we feed kids and we fix roofs, and we fund arts programming.  We do all these different things within the same realm, but under that same purpose, which is that we want to benefit the rural Ozarks, the Ozarks that is under represented in grant-making, and that the CFO really cares about, and Commerce Trust really cares a lot about, trying to make these places stronger.”

CFO's Bridget Dierks; Commerce Trust Company's Jill Reynolds; and KSMU's Mike Smith
Credit Louise Knauer / Community Foundation of the Ozarks

“Right, and it is really quite a process.  What I like the most about it is the fact that since these are regional grants, is having CFO regional board members on the committee and participating in the process.”, Says Jill Reynolds.

Bridget Dierks says Half of CFO’s board is made up of regional members, and they represent all of Southern Missouri:  “Some of them drive quite a ways to come to the CFO meetings, and they also come to participate in the Coover Grants.  They’re the ones who make the decisions.”

“And a lot of time goes into this.", says Reynolds,  "We spend a lot of time reviewing the formal grant requests these organizations submit.  We scrub them and we talk and ask questions.”

Bridget Dierks says  the process is lengthy and thorough:  “ It is a lengthy whittling down process.  Because we have so many applications we have multiple rounds of stepping it down, making sure each applicant has all the information we need from them, and making sure the impact is significant. Gradually, we work our way down to a smaller pool, then cut that pool in half, and then come to the place we have $250,000 worth of applications we feel really excited about.”

"Again," says Jill Reynolds,  "Mrs. Coover’s planning pre-dates me, (at Commerce Bank) but again, she trusted, and she heard from advisors the CFO would be a great fit for her and be able to partner with Commerce Trust to carry out her wishes and do a good job.”

“Like me," says Dierks, "every year I get to work with the Coover Fund, and I never met Mrs. Coover.  I’m sure she was a wonderful person, and I just have to sort of imagine what she must’ve been like.”

Jill Reynolds says she too was imagining what Dorothy Coover was like as a person, “I was thinking about this earlier Bridget, what I think she must’ve been like, and from what I do know, she must’ve been that sweet, amazing, kind neighbor next door, just a fantastic person with a big heart, and a very smart woman. She worked with the right advisors, and worked with the right people who helped her put in place what was meaningful to her.  It thrills me, and I wish I could have a conversation with her now, and show her how impactful this has been, and how impactful this will be for years and years to come.  I think she would be so happy.”

This year’s Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation grants will be awarded in April.  For information, www.cfozarks.org