The Community Foundation has received the largest gift in its history — $45 million that will create endowments benefiting eight local organizations.

The gift, by lifelong Des Moines residents Harriet and Locke Macomber, was announced during the foundation’s annual Celebration Luncheon held today at the Community Choice Convention Center in downtown Des Moines.

Locke Macomber, who was a retired chairman of the board and president of the former Valley National Bank, died in 1998. Harriet, described in her obituary as a patron of the arts and who worked for a time at Younkers department store in its promotion department, died in 2020. Because of her planning, $45 million from her estate will be given to the foundation to create endowments that will help the BWA Foundation, the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines Symphony, Drake Law School, Orchard Place, United Way of Central Iowa, St. Paul's Episcopal Church and the YMCA of Greater Des Moines.

The Macombers were actively involved in local organizations throughout their 40 years of marriage. After Locke died, Harriet continued her involvement through volunteering and charitable giving. She also worked with professional advisers to ensure that gifts from her estate would be established in her family’s name at the foundation as a way of honoring her husband and the prior generations of the family who called Des Moines home.

Kristi Knous, Community Foundation president, said Harriet Macomber was very intentional in planning for how her estate would be invested to help the community.

“She was so intentional in sharing the history and the reasoning behind the organizations,” Knous said in comments made ahead of today's event. “Some of them were in honor of her late husband and she was diligent in fulfilling his intentions. Or, she knew these organizations that meant so much to him and wanted to leave money in support of things he would have wanted.”

Knous said Harriet Macomber would bring pages of handwritten notes documenting her family’s history with an organization to meetings and wanted that documented in the funding agreements.

“She wanted these organizations to know why they were so important,” Knous said. “There was always some sort of meaningful connection, and she wanted that documented for the long term so that 100 to 150 years from now they would know why the Macomber family supported the organization and know the footprint they had on the organization throughout time. It was not the typical fund agreement experience. There was a lot of work and intention.”

Knous, who said she got to know Harriet Macomber well over the past 20 years, said she was “very non-pretentious.”

“She was someone you would pass on the street or at the grocery store and you would have no idea that she held this kind of wealth,” Knous said.

Leaders of the organizations that will benefit from the endowments expressed gratitude and said the Macombers’ legacy will live on in the work they do.

“With this financial support, the Art Center can more fully participate in the art of our time, bringing contemporary art and diverse audiences together through major exhibitions, as well as acquire works of art that have been out of financial reach in the past,” said Jeff Fleming, director of the Des Moines Art Center, where Harriet Macomber served on the board and was later an honorary trustee.

At Drake Law School the gift will be used to enhance educational experiences for students and help serve the community through pro bono service provided by its legal clinic to startup businesses and nonprofits.

“Harriet and Locke’s vision and investment in the law school celebrates and amplifies the spirit of the university’s campaign ‘The Ones,’ which demonstrates how individuals can make a powerful impact -- and collectively we can positively transform our community,”  said Jerry Anderson, the university’s dean and Richard M. and Anita Calkins distinguished professor of law.

Orchard Place CEO Anne Starr said the Macombers’ gift is the largest single gift in the organization’s 135-year history. Locke Macomber joined the Orchard Place board in 1969 and became president in 1979. He was instrumental in expanding the Orchard Place campus.

“It is fitting that Harriet and Locke, who during their lifetimes cared so deeply about the youth and families we serve, will continue their life giving impact on our mission of developing strong futures for youth facing mental, emotional, and behavioral health challenges,” Starr said.

Vicky Foresman, vice president of mission advancement at the YMCA of Greater Des Moines, echoed sentiments shared by others about the lasting impact of the Macombers’ legacy.

“Their family name will live on by giving youth opportunities to belong and participate in experiences they may otherwise not have access to,” Foresman said.

Knous said the Macombers’ gift and the conversations that have happened surrounding it have been a career highlight for her and many of the organizations’ leaders.

“There have been tears on multiple occasions for these nonprofit leaders who have only dreamt that they would have an endowment like this,” she said. “This is forever money. These will live on forever and provide money every single year to sustain these organizations. The magnitude is just something we haven’t seen.”

Knous said she hopes the Macombers’ gift will inspire others to dream big and consider what legacy they want to leave when they’re gone.

“This is an incredible story, but I don’t want people to think it’s unreachable,” she said. “Any long-term support like this means so much to our nonprofit sector. I just hope that it does inspire people to think about the legacy they can leave through their estate and their good planning to the community and organizations they love. It just means so much.”

The gift will increase assets the Community Foundation manages for charitable giving to nearly $900 million. Last year the foundation awarded nearly $52 million in grants to 2,377 organizations.