Our Beginnings

The Saint Paul Foundation was formed in 1940 when a group of concerned business leaders who had lived through the country’s most devastating economic downturn took action to prevent that kind of suffering again.

These visionary leaders recognized an opportunity to bring people together to support the long-term vitality of the community. In creating a community foundation, they ensured the future of a place they had come to cherish and love.

From its early beginnings, The Saint Paul Foundation has been instrumental in the transformation of the community. Our impact through the years includes these examples:

Como ConservatoryComo Park Zoo and Conservatory

In the 1970s, the Como Zoo and Conservatory — then separate entities — were in financial and management crisis. We supported the city in creating a new combined infrastructure and helped create Como Friends to raise community support. Today, the Como Zoo and Conservatory is a jewel of our capital city.

Saint Paul Skyline with a park in the foreground

District Energy

After the energy crisis of the 1970s, The Saint Paul Foundation partnered with the City of Saint Paul to create District Energy, a clean and inexpensive energy system that is still a national model. We raised money and created a loan fund to help nonprofits afford the required infrastructure investment.

Autumn trees reflected in a lakeRiverfront Redevelopment

In the 1990s, a report by The Saint Paul Foundation helped spur a community-wide effort to re-imagine the Mississippi riverfront. We were heavily involved in the development of parks, building new housing along the riverfront and in the reforestation of the river banks throughout downtown Saint Paul.

A girl, a boy and a woman smiling at the camera

The Community Economic Relief Fund

When the U.S. economy stumbled in 2008, we responded by creating the Community Economic Relief Fund to make strategic investments to help nonprofits and communities cope with the increased needs. We convened experts in specific issue areas and key stakeholders to jointly identify the best possible investments. The fund's initial $1.5 million in grants leveraged more than $40 million in other public and private funding — a $28 direct return for every dollar we invested.

Living Legacies: Individual Impact Through the Years

Over the decades, people loyal to Saint Paul put in place endowed funds that carry the legacy of their vision and commitment to the community. The following are a few visionaries who set up Legacy Funds at The Saint Paul Foundation. Staff expertise assures that their resources are wisely invested in the community over time and meeting its changing needs.

Annie Paper. Our first donor was a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who wanted to give back to Saint Paul, the place that became her home. Learn more

Harold Bend. A sugar broker and savvy investor, including an early stake in 3M, Harold Bend believed in giving generously. He and his wife, Glen, created a Legacy Fund that has contributed more than $60 million to the community. Learn more

Grace Flandrau. An iconoclast, best-selling author, radio celebrity, newspaper columnist, early jet-setter and champion for arts and women’s rights, she created a trust to forever benefit her hometown. Her Legacy Fund has contributed over $2 million to the community. Learn more

Ralph Kriesel. Ralph Kriesel rose from humble beginnings to lead a financial empire of automobile dealerships, banks and credit companies. This energetic, competitive business with a generous spirit lived simply. Today, his Legacy Fund helps other Minnesotans realize their dreams. Learn more

Mary Lou Diether. A lifelong Saint Paul resident and respected educator, she left a trust to support the work of The Saint Paul Foundation. Her legacy fund has contributed more than $500,000 to support changing community needs. Learn more

The Saint Paul Foundation continues that commitment today, honoring the legacy of past donors and welcoming new ones, who are committed to the Saint Paul area.