Son’s suicide inspires family to form charitable fund

December 9, 2015

Wayne Elhart

SHELBY — What is the driving force behind the Community Foundation for Oceana County? It’s currently the 120 charitable funds created by a mix of individuals, couples, families, businesses, organizations and the broader community.

Through third quarter 2015, these funds contributed $336,926 to community programs and projects, nonprofits serving Oceana residents and student scholarships. The full list of foundation funds is posted at

“We’ve added 10 new funds this year, and 50 since 2010,” said Community Foundation for Oceana County (CFOC) Executive Director Tammy Carey.  “We have been on a fantastic growth curve over the last couple years. We know that even more funds would be created if the concept was better understood. We are trying to do a better job sharing all the great news.”  

Carey is often asked why people and organizations form funds. “Well, the reasons go far beyond situations where funds are formed by wealthy people who’ve had successful careers, and by companies that have had commercial success. People don’t realize that even those with more limited financial resources have started smaller funds to make a difference,” Carey added.  The foundation also offers a Build a Fund option allowing extra time (up to five years) to establish a fund up to minimum level. Several area clubs also have established funds so people can support the organization’s charitable goals and receive tax benefits.  And some people create funds in their estate plans to personally define their legacies. Other funds are formed by nonprofits and other institutions to serve as the focal point for raising monies for specific purposes or general operational support.

“Families, friends and co-workers also create funds to honor deceased individuals,” Carey said. “This allows people to preserve a loved one’s memory forever by supporting causes that reflect the person’s interests in life.”

Tragic circumstances sometimes lead to the formation of a charitable fund.  For example, Pentwater resident Barbara Davidson and her family were deeply impacted last March when her son Wayne Elhart of Holland took his own life after battling depression for many years. How can anyone recover from such an overwhelming shock?

Davidson and her other son, Jeff, began looking for a way to make a permanent, positive impact on area residents who struggle with depression and to share a tool with the broader community to help recognize warning signs of suicide. They recently established the Wayne Elhart Be Nice Memorial Fund, and it already has begun to bring into Oceana public schools an innovative program called “Be Nice” – an acronym for Notice, Invite, Challenge and Empower. The program is facilitated by the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. CFOC manages the funds that are contributed by the Elhart family and others who want to further the cause.  The goal is to bring such training to students in Oceana schools for many years so that suicides are prevented and lives are saved.

Other new charitable funds created this year under the CFOC umbrella are:

COVE Oceana Endowment Fund – to support the work in Oceana County of Communities Overcoming Violent Encounters.

Lake Michigan Camp/Harvey Weaver Preservation Fund – to support the general operations of the Lake Michigan Camp and Retreat Center in Pentwater Township, in honor of its director of 47 years.

Oceana Local College Access Fund — to increase post-secondary education attainment and/or training towards a high quality credential.

Pentwater-Hart Trail Campaign Fund – to raise matching funds needed to qualify for federal and state monies to build a five-mile, paved bicycle lane between the two communities.

Ralph’s Kids – to support equal access to extracurricular activities and the unmet needs of Oceana County children. Formed in memory of the late Dr. Ralph Horton.  

Terry and Pam Roach Cancer Survivor Scholarship – for graduating seniors of any public school in Oceana County who have had a cancer diagnosis in their immediate family.

Sobecki Family Memorial Fund – advised fund in memory of seasonal resident Richard Sobecki

Richard and Carol Tompkins Scholarship Fund – advised fund in memory of Richard Tompkins

Wilson Family Little Point Sable Family Fund – advised fund honoring the Wilson Family’s seasonal residence at Little Point Sable.

Four funds also reached funding minimum status in 2015 (from a Build A Fund) – Fountain Hill Center Lakeshore Office Fund, Jordan Evans Memorial Scholarship, Melissa Fralic Scholarship and Lucas Rosalez Memorial Scholarship.

For more information about making gifts or creating a named fund of your own, check out the web site, follow the foundation on, or call Carey at 231.861.8335. As she always says, “Let’s start a conversation!”