50 Years of Impact

When Frank and Margaret Spain decided to leave a legacy for our community through the Community Foundation, one wonders if they ever dreamed that Birmingham would still be benefiting from their generosity 50 years later. Even today, however, their legacy lives on through organizations across the community that have received grants from their endowed fund.

Their gift came in the form of a $3 million bequest from their estate in 1972. Since that time, the Frank E. and Margaret Cameron Spain Fund has grown to $17 million and awarded more than $36 million in strategic grants to nonprofits across the five counties the Community Foundation serves.

But their legacy was not just a monetary one. It’s a familial one as well. Their daughter, Peggy Spain McDonald, was the first executive director of the Community Foundation and served from 1964 until her retirement in 1989. And their granddaughter, Cameron Vowell, has been active with the Community Foundation in various ways her entire adult life, serving on the board from 1994 until 2015 and as board chair from 2002 to 2003. Cameron now looks forward to her son, John Scott Vowell, Jr., carrying on as the 4th generation of their family to dedicate themselves to serving the Greater Birmingham area through the Community Foundation.

Peggy Spain McDonald’s incredible legacy of integrity and collaboration paved the way for the leaders who would follow her to continue building an organization that would not only stand the test of time but would be respected as a catalyst for change in the region. Under her leadership, by 1971 the assets of the Community Foundation had grown, and the first published annual report stated that since 1965, more than $300,000 had been granted to community agencies.

“It was the perfect job for my mother. And her father was very pleased at the idea that she was going to run the Foundation,” says Cameron Vowell. “It was fun for her, too, because she learned an awful lot about what was happening in Birmingham, what were the best programs, who was in need, and who needed guidance as an organization. And so, the Community Foundation developed standards for evaluating grants and for being a successful organization.”

Cameron also recalls how her mother shaped the Foundation, “Watching the Community Foundation evolve over the course of my life has been very rewarding.” That’s why Cameron and her husband, Scott, have decided that they, too, will leave a gift to the Foundation through their estate. “My grandfather instilled the value of philanthropy in me,” she recalls. “He was a true believer in giving and sharing and helping those in need. He really was.”

Also rewarding is knowing that her son will continue the family’s legacy of generosity and service. “John Scott knows that philanthropy is my and my husband’s main focus, and he’s very philanthropic, too,” Cameron says. “I want young people to understand that you can build a building and have your name on it, but buildings are going to get old. If you create a fund at the Community Foundation as part of your legacy, it’s going to endure for a long time. And that money has a chance to grow. Bricks and mortar? They don’t multiply over time. That’s the power of an endowment.”

When asked how her grandmother, Margaret Spain, would feel knowing that her original gift was still having an impact 50 years later, Cameron smiled. “Well, of course they’d be delighted. They’d be so happy. And the fact that it’s going to continue with a 4th generation would make her ecstatic.” And as Cameron looks forward toward 50 more years of philanthropy through the Community Foundation, she hopes that younger generations will see the value in giving back the way she does and the way her mother and grandmother did. “I want them to think about what they want to see happen and the impact of their gifts. That way, we can all have confidence in and hope for the future of the Greater Birmingham area.”

Learn more about how you can leave a legacy.