One of the saddest things about growing older is the increasing deaths of lifetime friends, acquaintances and icons whose lives shaped much of the world around us. The Statesman reported on Feb. 11 the passing of one of those legendary figures — John Fery. His exceptional professional and leadership/philanthropic contributions were carefully and thoughtfully outlined in the article about his life. I would like to expand on one of his most important leadership and philanthropic achievements — the Idaho Community Foundation.
In the late 1980s, foundation grants in Idaho were among the lowest in the United States, at one-seventh the national average. To address this problem, one of Idaho’s leading activist philanthropists, Margaret Gigray, and others formed a working group to explore if a community foundation in Idaho or its major city, Boise, might increase significantly Idaho’s foundation granting to its nonprofits. While community foundations had multiplied across our country since 1914, there were few such foundations in the late 1980s in the Intermountain West.
The group looked for a major Idaho CEO to lead an initiative to establish a community foundation. With the encouragement from Boise Cascade’s senior vice president, Alice Hennessey, a member of this exploratory group, Boise Cascade CEO John Fery, agreed to provide that leadership. John had a passion for nonprofits and their support of kids, education and the arts, and he was a lifelong leader and philanthropist in support of these things. Moreover, he was the right person to bring ICF to life across Idaho.
One of the key early issues was whether to establish either a statewide community foundation or one based in a city or regional manner. If Idaho was to be a more cohesive entity, it needed nongovernmental organizations that addressed the whole state rather than just one region. A decision was made to form a statewide community foundation.
Once that decision was made, John and his colleagues traveled the state to build support for the Idaho Community Foundation. John gained early support from Idaho’s best-known businesses and philanthropists: J.A. and Kathryn Albertson, J.R. Simplot, Idaho Power, Wallace’s Harry Magnuson, Pocatello’s Park Price and, of course, Boise Cascade.
Another important decision was the organization of the ICF board, which was reflective of Idaho, not just one region. John retired from his Boise Cascade and ICF roles in 1996. Several years later, John chaired a capital campaign to purchase a Victorian home at 210 W. State St., which in 2015 was named for John and his wife, Dee — the John and Dee Fery Idaho Community Foundation House.
From that small but significant beginning, ICF’s assets have increased to over $115 million, will soon have distributed over $100 million in grants to Idaho nonprofits since 1988, and is the second largest distributor of foundation grants each year in Idaho. Thank you John Fery, for you did well with this idea of a community foundation for Idaho.
Bob Hoover is the former Idaho Community Foundation president.