This is the eighth of nine short historical reminiscences to mark the 30th anniversary of the Homer Foundation, Alaska’s first community foundation. This series was produced by The Foundation and written by former board member Tom Kizzia. It was first published in 2021.
In 2003, Alaska’s first community foundation made a statewide splash with a decision to donate $50,000 to the effort to build Homer’s new public library. The ambitious library project was being put together with a minimum of public funds, at a time of government budget cuts. The Homer Foundation had never granted anything close to that much money, and didn’t have money like that sitting around in its unrestricted fund. But board members thought it was worth making an extra effort — and agreed to reach into their own pockets to help.
The major small-town commitment made a big impression on the statewide Rasmuson Foundation, established with the family fortune behind the National Bank of Alaska. Rasmuson wound up donating $1.4 million to the new Homer library, which opened in WHEN. And in 2005, the Rasmuson Foundation came to Homer to celebrate its 50th anniversary and gave a $50,000 unrestricted gift to the Homer Foundation.
Support for reading and writing projects have continued to play a big part for the Homer Foundation. In 2004, the largest-ever single Homer donation to date — an anonymous gift of $153,888 — established the Tin Roof Fund, which provides two $3,000 creative writing scholarships every year to high school graduates. That donation included a $50,000 gift to the library project fund.
The foundation launched its own literary endeavor around the same time, publishing the only photo book of the Kachemak Bay area, with short essays from local writers Tom Bodett (one of the foundation’s original donors), Nancy Lord, Tom Kizzia, Sharon Bushell, Janet Klein and Eva Saulitis. The 2005 book has raised thousands of dollars for the foundation, with a second edition coming out in 2016.
Even more than reading and writing, music has been an object of love for donors to the Homer Foundation —not surprisingly, considering that one of the board’s original incorporators was piano teacher and local arts maven Mary Epperson.
Grants to provide music and instruments for local bands and orchestras have been made nearly every year. The foundation has provided funds for purchase of tiny violins for elementary students, part of a community-wide stringed instrument initiative. Other grants from music-oriented funds have helped stage community performances of the Mozart Requiem and Carmina Burana.
One unusual musical project supported with several thousand dollars was the Paul Banks Songbook, a publication of the music of the beloved Homer school custodian who played piano for student shows and had an elementary school named for him in 1981, seven years before his death.
In 2002, the foundation board gained a strong personal advocate for music in Renda Horn, a music teacher, musician and vocalist. Horn was involved in organizing memorably named performance groups, including the community band Inlet Winds and the Mud Bay Madrigal Society. After Horn died in a 2009 plane crash, her taste for quirky names lived on. A “field of interest” fund created in her honor at the foundation was named the Horn Section. Also living on was her desire to support local musical endeavors, as the Horn Section has been a major source of funding for the Homer Youth String Orchestra and the umbrella K-12 string-based music programs of Homer OPUS.