Tom and Carol Beeler
When it comes to philanthropy, Tom and Carol Beeler do not just pull out their checkbook. When they become involved, they become fully involved, with their own unique brand of hands-on philanthropy.
Both Tom and Carol worked for Ford Motor Company in Detroit. Carol worked in the burgeoning computer side of the business. “In the 1960s, it was about 200 guys and me,” she said. Tom was in engineering and product planning. Following their time at Ford, they started a commercial real estate company, management company, and development company. For 45 years, they called Michigan home.
Amazingly, of the 195 countries in the world, the Beelers have traveled to 135. In 2004, the Beelers’ love of travel brought them to Florida. After living on their boat through the winter season, they moved to a condominium on Longboat Key and then to their current home on Golden Gate Point.
With no children of their own, the Beelers began considering how to invest their life savings. The result: A family foundation to provide education for low-income and minority students. They selected nine local non-profits to benefit from this legacy gift, one of which is Ringling College of Art and Design.
But, why Ringling College?
“Our first experience with the College was attending a student art exhibition. Lo and behold, who was the first person we met but Larry Thompson,” Tom said. “He invited us to come to campus the following Monday and offered to personally take us on a tour, which he did. We have always loved the arts. We love learning. And, we love the kids. That was really all it took for us to know that we wanted to get involved.”
The Beelers are so passionate about Ringling College that they are always looking to make connections for prospective students. While on a four-month cruise around the world with 600 students, faculty, and lifelong learners sponsored by Colorado State University, they met a prospective Ringling College student from Georgia in the former Soviet Republic who had been evaluating art schools all over the world. Although not yet a student, she continues to dream of the day when a scholarship will make it possible for her to attend Ringling College.
The Beelers’ hands-on approach to philanthropy is also evident through their dedication to mentoring and sponsoring students. “The students we mentor are all at-risk kids,” Carol said. “Most are the first in their families to go to college; one had no family and was living on the streets when we met him; and only three out of the 11 we have sponsored have had a father in lives,” she said. “Tom becomes the father figure, and it makes such a difference in their lives,” Carol added. “Mentoring is what most of these kids need, someone to teach them all the things they might not be learning at home.”
The requirements for receiving funds from the Tom and Carol Beeler Foundation reflect their commitment to directly supporting students. Foremost, the funds must be used for education. “We don’t build buildings. We don’t buy equipment or pay salaries,” said Carol. “We do, however, allow a broad definition of education. It might be Circus Arts Conservatory, or Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, or a scholarship to Ringling College.”
The other requirements are that money must benefit low-income families; at least half of the funds must go to racially diverse students; and the program must include training in life skills. Since life-skills training is not part of most scholastic or non-profit program offerings, the Beelers have partnered with the Education Foundation of Sarasota County to create a life-skills training program. The program, participation in which is required for all scholarship recipients, includes two four-hour workshops that cover such things as writing thank-you notes, etiquette, table manners, and other life skills.
The Beelers believe that many people wait too long to make endowment or legacy plans or to establish a foundation or other philanthropic entity. As Tom said, “It is a lot easier to make money than to give it away.” By setting up their foundation early, Tom and Carol said, “We have been able to reap the benefits during our lifetime and to fully enjoy the experience.”
By Gayle Guynup