By Sue Moore
After 29 years as chairman of the Vicksburg Foundation’s Board of Directors, Bill Oswalt is passing the mantle. Oswalt has presided over a steady growth in foundation revenue and grants, and along the way, he’s personally repaired the folding chairs at the Community Center whenever they fail.
Taking Oswalt’s place as chair is Rudy Callen, a retired banker with roots in the area’s financial community and the Vicksburg school district – if not yet known for his folding-chair repairing skills.
Oswalt, a retired dairy farmer from just outside the village limits, has been a member of the foundation’s board since 1978. He replaced Max Bardeen as chairman in 1988 and ever since has been the go-to guy for grants that have funded a wide array of projects in the greater Vicksburg area.
“The Foundation has provided needed financial assistance to ‘our family of nonprofit organizations’ predominantly of South Kalamazoo County,” Oswalt said.
He is humble about what he and the foundation board have accomplished, as those accomplishments include more than $5 million in grants since 1980, when the Foundation began to keep detailed records.
Whenever a need is identified, Oswalt is usually the first to be contacted. He counsels the applicant on whether the project would be eligible for a hearing by the board, gives the applicant guidance on how to apply and best of all, makes the congratulatory call if the grant is approved. He’s not like Mr. Millionaire on TV, but to the recipients it sometimes feels that way.
Oswalt plans to continue as a trustee on the board and will be available to assist Callen as needed with the transition. His work with the foundation isn’t Oswalt’s only contribution to Vicksburg. He helped assure that the High School had an agribusiness studies program and a functioning Future Farmers of America chapter. He won letters in track at Michigan State University as a pole vaulter and then coached Vicksburg high school students upon his return to his home town after graduation from MSU.
He and his family developed an award-winning registered Holstein herd of dairy cows. In later years, Bill and Pat established Ozland Enterprises Corp., for the purpose of developing and marketing a number of management tools they identified as needed in the dairy industry. Their first product was a breeding management scheduling system designed to keep track of any cow’s gestation and production cycle. Their son, Mike, has been running the business since 1995.
The Vicksburg Foundation was established by Lee Paper Company in 1943 with an initial gift of $19,500.
Over the years, the investment assets of multiple funds have evolved and currently generate an annual “grant making distribution pool” averaging approximately $250,000. It also provides flexibility in providing assistance for larger and smaller projects in the community.
Perhaps the largest one time grant ever awarded was $165,000 to help build the community pavilion on the grounds of the Historic Village. Most recently the Foundation funded the Sunset Lake Elementary school’s “Leader in Me” effort with a three-year pledge to purchase books for students and training for the staff.
Callen is in his second term on the Vicksburg Community Schools Board of Education, past chairman of the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation and a current trustee. He also serves on the Kalsee Credit Union Board after 10 years as president of the bank. He contributes his talents to the Michigan Credit Union League board and plays rhythm guitar in an Irish band called Belfast Gin. He joined the Vicksburg Foundation board in 2012. Other members of the board are Warren Lawrence, Lloyd Appell, Danna Downing, Jim Shaw, Didik Soekarmoen and David Schriemer.
The Foundation has shifted somewhat from brick-and-mortar grants to include strategic funding throughout the community, Oswalt said. Among the organizations which received funding in 2016 totaling $411,000: Village of Vicksburg’s Cultural Arts Center, Vicksburg Historical Society for new programs and staff, Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation for scholarships, Schoolcraft Community Library for automatic door openers, Hospital Hospitality House of Southwest Michigan for capital campaign, Vicksburg Community Schools for tennis court repairs, Village of Vicksburg for school resource officer salary, Vicksburg United Way and Village of Vicksburg for community leadership training, Lending Hands of Michigan for shelving, Vicksburg DDA for 2017 façade grant program, South County Emergency Medical Services and Vicksburg Vision Capital Campaign for community matching grants over a period of three years.
It has been a banner year for the Vicksburg Foundation’s commitment to “partnership” with the Greater Vicksburg Community, Oswalt and Callen agreed.