It all started in 1991 with the St. Mary’s Seminary property

St. Mary’s Seminary on Division Street had been closed for a number of years when a group from the North East Chamber of Commerce set about seeing if the property could be used to create a presence for higher education in the Borough of North East.

A group from the Chamber led by Director Lisa Miller Gensheimer took the issue up with Dr. William Garvey, president of Mercyhurst College in Erie, and he was very interested in the idea. He was, however, also very concerned about how much it would cost to make the St. Mary’s property, with its many grand, but older buildings, into a modern branch campus of Mercyhurst.

In its presentation, the Chamber made a $500,000 commitment to help Mercyhurst offset the projected costs of the renovation. It was anticipated that those funds—payable to Mercyhurst over five years—would be raised from local businesses, local industries, and the residents of North East. After the conclusion of this presentation and the Chamber’s pledge of support, the Mercyhurst Board of Trustees approved the purchase—and the North East group set about forming an organization to raise and deliver those funds to Mercyhurst.

NECF created to provide needed funding structure

To begin solicitations and to have an appropriate vehicle in place for funneling the funds to Mercyhurst, The North East Community Foundation (NECF) was formed, and the initial meeting was held on April 23, 1991. With the assistance of Attorney Dan Hill, David Gesue conducted that first meeting, and within a month the original leadership was in place.

Founding officers:

  • David Gesue, Chairman
  • Robert Mikytuck, Vice Chair
  • Sharon Swift, Secretary
  • Ernest Lake, Treasurer

Original directors:

  • Robert Mazza
  • Ernest Lake
  • Robert Mikytuck
  • David Gesue
  • James Weidman III
  • Geraldine Smith
  • Sharon Swift
  • Robert Jez
  • Robert Miller

In October 1995, the Foundations by-laws were changed to specify that the Board of Directors of would consist of no fewer than nine members and no more than fifteen. The Foundation Board today has twelve members.

An impressive history of community giving

Original pledges for Mercyhurst North East.

Pledges for the Mercyhurst Northeast project were received from all parts of the community, and the first payment to Mercyhurst was made on September 15, 1991. The second pledge payment was made in March 1992, and an editorial of support was printed in the North East Breeze the week of March 8, 1992.

First large anonymous gift.

In January 1992, an anonymous gift of $100,000 was received by the Foundation to be used for other charitable purposes and establish the organization as a true public foundation within the community. This gift enabled the NECF to make its first additional award that year—a grant of $2,500 to bring Artrain to North East. Sponsors included North East Arts Council, North East Historical Society, North East Lakeshore Railroad Society, and the North East Chamber.

Founders Group formed in 1994.

In February 1994, a Founders Group was formed from a group of active supporters in an effort to establish future funding sources. Letters sent to solicit funds for other charitable giving in the community resulted in NECF grants that year to McCord Library, Community Nursing Services, and the North East Arts Council.

Emphasis on estate planning.

In September 1994, an informational breakfast meeting was held for local attorneys and financial planners to discuss plans for estate planning and planned giving programs, and those ongoing efforts continue to be very successful.

Dorothy Bertges-Thornton Estate gift received in 1997.

In early 1997, the NECF received $136,005 from the estate of Dorothy Bertges-Thornton, with the income being designated for use by six local organizations. To date, more than $30,000 has been awarded to those organizations from the Bertges-Thornton Fund.

Yearly financial support continues.

The level of annual support by the community has been very gratifying. One example of ongoing support for the Foundation are gifts from the Robert S. and Janet L. Miller Family Foundation through the United Way, and there are many others.

Affiliation with The Erie Community Foundation brings benefits

In March 2001, the Board of Directors signed an affiliation agreement with The Erie Community Foundation. This agreement provides our small group with the investment and development expertise of a $250 million foundation without sacrificing control over how our funds are distributed.