In 1906 John A. Hillenbrand planted the company’s roots in Batesville when he rescued a small, struggling casket company.

One hundred fourteen years later, the John A. Hillenbrand Foundation was named the 2020 Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce Organization of the Year and cited for its community impact.

When the foundation was granted charitable status in March 1951, the original directors were Hillenbrand and his four sons: John W., George C., William A. and Daniel A. Hillenbrand. It was formed “with the simple purpose of promoting religious, educational and charitable activities in and around the Batesville area,” presenter Chris Lowery told the annual dinner crowd at the packed Batesville Knights of Columbus Hall Jan. 30.

It’s challenging “to understand the impact this foundation has had on this community. This is a special place. The John A. Hillenbrand Foundation has been a significant part of that.”

“The foundation has supported dozens of initiatives, organizations and strategies over the years. In just the past 25 or so, grants have been awarded to over 70 organizations and funding has exceeded $15 million,” he announced to sustained applause.

Lowery noted, “My guess is there’s not a person in this room who in some way ... has not been touched by one of those grants and the generosity of the ... foundation.”

Its purpose is to support community development, the arts, computer literacy and children.

Current officers are President W August Hillenbrand, Vice President John A. Hillenbrand, Second Vice President William A. Hillenbrand II, Secretary J. Claire Sherman and Treasurer George Brinkmoeller.

Sizable grants have been given to, among others, Batesville Fire & Rescue; Cincinnati and Indianapolis symphonies performances at the Batesville Music and Arts Festival and Star-Spangled Symphony, respectively; The Plex baseball/softball complex; CREATE (Committee to Review, Evaluate and Aid Technology in Education) and its 1:1 initiative at public and private schools; Ivy Tech Community College; Batesville Main Street; Hillenbrand Family Feldhaus at Oldenburg Academy; Batesville Area Arts Council, formerly Rural Alliance for the Arts; Safe Passage; Margaret Mary Health Foundation; Bill Gillespie Soccer Park concession stand; Boy Scouts; Girl Scouts; Batesville Beautification League; Batesville Parks and Recreation; and the Batesville Police Department.

In 2001, Gus Hillenbrand, part of the third generation of family philanthropists, told The Herald-Tribune, “The dedication of doing things for Batesville — that’s very, very important to everyone in the Hillenbrand family.” The aim of the years of charitable giving has been to “make Batesville a very unique, wonderful place to live with a lot of wonderful amenities.”

As Lowery prepared his speech, he said, “I thought about this community and the significance of the Hillenbrand Foundation.” The Ivy Tech Community College senior vice president of workforce and careers pointed out there’s a “delicious intersection ... between the public sector, government organizations, individuals, the private sector, philanthropists, nonprofits — you all represent that in this room. It’s a really unique blend. In Batesville there’s this way that 1+1+1+1 doesn’t equal 4. It’s more like 6.5 or 7... in the middle of this (there’s the) John A. Hillenbrand Foundation. We simply see it in our quality of life here.”

As Batesville continues to improve, “that transformation has been made ... possible practically every time with the generosity, support and love of the John A. Hillenbrand Foundation.”

Three Hillenbrand relatives who live here accepted the Organization of the Year trophy.

Claire Sherman, daughter of the late Dan and Mim Hillenbrand, observed, “The Hillenbrand Foundation is our family’s opportunity to give back to this Batesville community that we love. It’s just been over the years a great opportunity for us to give back to all the people here and this town and make improvements where we can and offer assistance where we can and it’s just been wonderful.” When Sherman was invited to be on the board 20 years ago, she asked her father, “’Why do you have a foundation?’ He said, ‘Because we should.’”

Bill Hillenbrand, son of Gus and Nancy Hillenbrand, noted, “As representatives of the family, we certainly didn’t start this. We’re just stewards. We’re honored to be here to represent the John A. Hillenbrand Foundation. Six generations of Hillenbrands have lived in the community dating back 150 years. Batesville has been our family home where we’ve raised our children, been educated, where we have great friends and where we started businesses.”

Saying that the city is very progressive with impressive schools, medical facilities and religious institutions, “the John A. Hillenbrand Foundation is here to see this continues well into the future.” Hillenbrand said leaders are “passionate about making an indelible impact on the community.”

Peter Hillenbrand, son of John and Joan Hillenbrand, said that Merrilee Heinlein, who assists foundation officials, “is the glue that keeps the foundation together. She deserves a shout-out.”

He urged attendees, “Continue to support Batesville, continue to support your local businesses and rock on!”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-717-3113.