Giving Back Through A Family's Philanthropy

Jan 14, 2016

Producer Mike Smith:  "Today, Lezah Stenger and her daughter Stephanie Stenger Montgomery reflect on the family's philanthropy through the Lezah Stenger Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.  Both ladies have literally led by example.   Stephanie is the current Board Chair of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, a post her mother held in 1996, and each has served the community as President of the Jr. League of Springfield.

Lezah Stenger:  "This takes us back to the early days, I was President of the Jr. League in 1986.  The Jr. League is really a learning place, teaching leadership.  I began to realize what my focus in my heart, how I wanted to help, and it was really in the area of children, education and reading.  We're big readers you know.  You (Stephanie) and I are for sure.  But that's how I began, and when you came back I wanted you to be a League member because I knew what it could do for you.  And you had so much to bring to the League and to leadership in the community.  I was thrilled that you wanted to."

Stephanie Stenger Montgomery:  "Well I certainly wanted to follow in you footsteps.  I was always very proud that my mother was out there being the volunteer that she was, the leader that she was especially with the Jr. League.  As a kid, I think I and my siblings all associated giving to the community and helping  the community with the Jr. League.  You were so active and we would follow you to your events and The Plaid Door, and our favorite thing was when you all were testing recipes for the Sassafras Cookbook, and we all got to give our input on which recipes we liked and which ones we didn't." 

Lezah:  "That was fun."

Stephanie:  "I was a Sr. in High School the year you were President of the Jr. League.  So when I came back to Springfield and started working with the family's real estate development business, I was looking for a way to get involved with the community to make it a better place.  I knew I wanted to give back because I watched you and dad all our lives.  So I started by Joining the Jr. League.  I'm glad I started there because it really did train me how to be an active board member.  As I followed your steps in the Jr. League, you had also gone on to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks."

Lezah:  As you can tell there are lots of Jr. League members serving on community boards, and I was very interested in the Community Foundation of the Ozarks after I retired. (as President of the Jr. League) So that's how I became involved.  In 1996 I became Chairman of the Board of the CFO, and we were having some real exciting times having some more growth.  At that time we had 5 staff, 130 funds and 13 million dollars."

Stephanie:  It is an organization that is much bigger now.  We've given' over 250 million dollars in grants.  We have 49 affiliates."

Lezah: "We had one when I was Chairman....Nixa" 

Stephanie:  "Nixa is still a big one.  The (CFO) Community Report Card came out when I was active, (in Jr. League) and so in reading the Community Report Card the Jr. League started Isabel's House.  I was the President of the Jr. League when Isabel's House opened.  From there, I got more interested in the community as a whole, and the CFO leading the charge with the Community Report Card allowed me to look at the bigger picture of Springfield and the needs we really have here.  We all have to give our time to city boards and non-profit boards and our churches, our everything.  If we don't get involved, our community itself will stagnate.  The CFO is at the center of making Springfield a better place and I wanted to be a part of that."

Lezah:  We're all trying to give to our communities in the ways we are most capable of doing, and as we grew as a family and were privileged to have money to give to the community, the CFO seemed to be the right place to put our money.  The CFO brings together a cohesive group of donors, let alone the projects and the agencies.  It also gets you in touch with what's out there in the community that you might not have known."

Stephanie:  "Right, they have a wealth of knowledge and excitement and really want people to learn how to give in the best ways possible.  I think the CFO does a really great job on getting people together and teaching them (for instance) on how to set up their own family foundation small or large and decide what it is they are interested in doing in the community and helping with that."

Lezah:  Yes, we are focusing (through the Lezah Stenger Foundation) on children and their needs in our community."

Stephanie:  "You know, I was thinking of this.  Other than watching my parents, I was also watched my grandmother,  my dad's mother Maxine.  She was from Reeds Spring and grew up in the depression.  She had the biggest heart of anyone.  She would help a neighbor, a friend, an enemy.  She would help anyone in need, and she always focused on children.  I think that's where my dad got his focus on children.  Focusing on The Boys and Girls Club, the Springfield Family Y, and Girls on the Run.  He saw what it was doing for the self-esteem for those girls that had not had a chance before, to set a goal and achieve it."

Lezah:  We support the Y, The Discovery Center, Isabel's House, and the Springfield School Foundation.  So we see with the interest of all of our children and now our grandchildren, those are the places that we cna meet community needs."

Stephanie:  "I do think you have to look at what drives you.  As children and as a family we've seen the values you have given us and hopefully given to our children.  My children were dragged to the Jr. League just like I was. (Laughter) Actually they will say Isabel's house, they spent every Saturday at Isabel's house, but really you have to.....whatever speaks to you own heart."

Producer Mike Smith:  "Stephanie Stenger Montgomery and her mother Lezah Stenger.  The Lezah Stenger Foundation is a Supporting Organization of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.  Making A Difference;  Stories of Hope and Help, is produced in cooperation with the CFO.  For more information www.cfozarks.org