Ann Bowman came to Valparaiso to attend law school in 1974 and put down roots that have continued to grow in Porter County long past Ann’s graduation. Originally from a small farming community in Indiana, Ann knew that she wanted to practice law and sought a small-town atmosphere for her legal education. She went on to become in-house counsel for a large company in Merrillville.
Throughout her career, Ann never forgot the support she received as a student.She became an active supporter of Valparaiso University and its surrounding community.She established a scholarship for Valparaiso University law students.“Law school is an expensive proposition.My gift is for 2nd or 3rd year students who find themselves struggling for funding.I hope to make it possible for these students to finish their degrees.”
Damien and Rita Gabis
Damien and Rita Gabis know a thing or two about growing things for the future. As founders of Taltree Arboretum and Gardens, the couple initially purchased over 100 acres of land and planted more than 7,000 oak and hickory seedlings. Today, Taltree has grown to over 320 acres of formal gardens, woodlands, wetlands and prairie that hosts thousands of visitors each year.
After raising their 3 children in Olympia Fields, Illinois, Damien and Rita moved to Valparaiso. Damien had a passion for land preservation stemming from classes he took at the Morton Arboretum. The Gabis Family began building trails and cleaning up their land. “We didn’t originally plan for the facility to have a lot of visitors but it evolved into a business.”
Upon the couples passing, the Gabis’ want Taltree to be their legacy. So much hard work and effort has gone into maintaining the grounds and it has grown with the couple. Their advice for the next generation of philanthropists is, “If you want to be part of the community, you need to get involved. It’s the right thing to do.”
Jacki Stutzman was born and raised in Valparaiso. Soon after graduating from college, she ventured off—first to Washington, D.C. and then to Dallas. She became a third grade teacher and raised horses. When the time came to make a change in her life, she could have moved anywhere. But she chose to come home to Porter County.
When she came back, she was pleased to see a vibrant community that people have kept moving forward. When Jacki left Valparaiso, her dad’s generation had been the movers and shakers. It was nice to see the children of that generation who were now making a difference. “It is great to see so many people working together.”
Jacki got to know her hometown again through community service. As she became more involved, she found that bit by bit, event after event, she knew people. “Coming home was the right thing to do at the right time in my life. I’ve never been so content and so happy.”
Rich Kneifel was born and raised in Kouts—where everyone knows everybody as there are many long-standing family roots in the small town. He, like many other residents, inherited farmland from his parents and lives on that same land today.
A member of the Navy for 4 years, he served our country during the Vietnam war. When he returned, he worked for Union Electric Steel where he retired in 2005. A long-time music enthusiast, Rich plays trumpet and piano and volunteers to play the organ and piano regularly at his church.
While working on his estate plan, Rich describes himself as “going into a charitable mindset.”Rich wanted to support something he cared about passionately.He really believes in the Kouts school system and the importance of music programs—which are being cut across the country.“Music has been a big part of my life, and has been since I was in the fifth grade.”His gift to the Kouts Music Department and music scholarships will be funded through his plan.He hopes someone will get to go to school to study music.“I want to be remembered as a simple person who loved his school and community.”
Leslie Plesac may be known as a community leader and a supportive mother…but she is also a passionate advocate for education. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college. Her mom was the valedictorian of her high school class, but passed on a scholarship to get married and have five kids. Leslie credits her mother for supporting her dreams for an education.
Funding a college education wasn’t easy. In her junior year, finances were particularly tight and her tuition did not get paid. Leslie had to piece together the funding to complete her undergraduate degree and went on to earn a masters degree.
Leslie established a scholarship fund to help students realize their dreams of higher education.“Being part of the Scholarship Committee allowed me to focus on what I was passionate about and that is when this became about something much bigger than me.”
Emily Remster’s Porter County roots run deep as does her relationship with the Porter County Community Foundation. Growing up in Springfield, Illinois, Emily moved to Porter County to attend Valparaiso University. After graduation, she stayed in Porter County taking a position as an extension agent with Purdue University. She also met and married her husband, John Remster, Jr., who was a farmer in Morgan Township.
Emily was a founding Board member of the Porter County Community Foundation. She was very involved with the Foundation’s Grant Committee. “I felt like I had a grip on what these agencies needed to fulfill their missions.”
Emily recalls growing up in a place where there was a lack of money and other resources.Much of her family’s giving when she was young went to the church. “The more I worked in Porter County, the more I have given because I was fortunate enough to have the means.Anything can help and it grows when it joins the Foundation’s other assets.”
Stephanie and Mike Jones
Stephanie Jones grew up in a giving family in southern Indiana. Her father was a volunteer firefighter and her mother made food for shut ins. When she married Mike Jones of Chesterton and the couple relocated to Kouts, the giving continued.
In 2011, Stephanie began a journey of giving and released “The Giving Challenge,” her simple challenge for a richer life, in 2017. Through her journey, giving just became a way of life. Together the Joneses decided that 10 percent of what they bring in will go back out to their community, their state, or around the world.
Stephanie is quick to point out that the couple isn’t independently wealthy or connected to a prestigious name or address. “We’re proof that anybody can give.” Yet the Joneses wanted their giving to continue even beyond their lifetimes. Though young, they created an estate plan with three overriding principles—we don’t take tomorrow for granted; we want to spare our families any hard decisions when we’re gone; and finally, we want to be remembered as givers and to pass that message on.
“Be bold. Dream big. Bless others.”
Harley and Jan Snyder
Harley and Jan Snyder will forever be known as the Foundation’s first contributors. As the Foundation was being formed in 1996, it was the Snyders who came forward with the lead gift that would launch the first of many successful completions of GIFT initiatives from Lilly Endowment Inc. Although their commitment has been extraordinary, the Snyders are very humble about their contributions.
Coming from very simple beginnings, the Snyders met at Valparaiso High School. Upon returning from the Army, Harley joined his father in is his real estate and insurance business. Jan attended Valparaiso University and went on to be a teacher at Valparaiso High School. As Harley’s business grew, he made time to get involved in the community and Jan volunteered with her favorite charities.
The Snyders feel fortunate that their family remained in the area and continue to be interested in the long-term future of Porter County. “We follow the philosophy that to whom much is given, much is required. We are grateful for our blessings and want to share our good fortune—not just financially—through time and talents as well.”
Born and raised in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, Pat and her family settled in Ogden Dunes after college. Pat’s passion for the arts was sparked during her time in college at the Cleveland Art Institute. Now she is an avid supporter of the arts and involved in several art initiatives in the area.
Her joy of giving expanded through involvement in other organizations such as the Porter County Community Foundation. Pat enjoys seeing the variety of organizations that receive support from the Foundation through various grant programs and giving circles.
Pat regularly talks with her children and grandchildren about giving and tells them that they have to have a passion for it. People need to recognize that it’s important to have fun with what you’re doing whether it is in philanthropy or your career. She feels everyone needs to find their sense of passion. “I want my family to say I taught them how to [volunteer, be a philanthropist] without actually saying anything.”