Gebbie Foundation Historical Perspective
The following is an excerpt from a history given to new board members by former board member Rhoe B. Henderson III. Mr. Henderson has spent decades dedicating his energies and expertise to the Jamestown community and served on the Gebbie Foundation Board of Directors for 24 years, from 1993-2017. As a board member, he served as President, Treasurer and chair of several committees including the Investment & Finance Committees.
The Gebbie family and the Foundation, founded by them, have always worked and contributed in the background. Even before the Foundation was formed, the family performed many good works for agencies and individuals, most of which the public was never aware.
Prior to my board service, two major contributions were especially notable: a grant to The Chautauqua Institution and another to The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation (CRCF). The grant agreement to the Institution held stipulations that turned it around from an organization with deep financial problems, to what it is today. CRCF was given $300,000 in seed money and has now become a $60,000,000 asset to the community.
I remember working with such notable board members as Bill Parker, Geddie Parker, and Bertram Parker, the family representatives. I also served with non-family members such as Buck Franks, Chuck Hall, Linda Swanson, George Campbell, Becky Robbins, Lillian Ney, Marty Coyle, Paul Sandberg, and John Hamilton. John Hamilton was an original board member, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Foundation with duties that included investment activities.
From my perspective, there are two watershed moments that stand out. One was when the Gebbie Board decided to change the Foundation structure to an Executive Director who would not serve as a board member, and to realign staff positions. We also instituted methods to limit terms of service enabling the board to bring in quality new members. The second was the decision, at a board retreat, to take the path of becoming proactive in grant-making with the idea of pursuing the development of a large economic development project. From these brainstorming sessions, the concept of the Ice Arena being that project emerged. A second and separate goal was to try to improve the self-image of our community. The Arena turned out to be the catalyst for doing both.
The Foundation decided to move away from the reactive form of traditional grant-making to human service and arts organizations, to instead, focus on targeted Economic Development funding. This was a painful transition for the grantees, as well as, the staff and Board. Some grants were stopped immediately while others were decreased over a period of 3 years.
The bottom line was that Gebbie had changed its staffing model, investment method, Board members, and strategic focus in a relatively short period of time, achieving a huge impetus to the “renaissance” of this community.
THE FOUNDING FAMILY
The Gebbie Foundation was established in 1964 from the charitable bequest of two sisters, Geraldine Gebbie Bellinger and Marion Bertram Gebbie. The sisters named the foundation in honor of their parents, Frank and Harriet Louisa Gebbie. The elder Gebbies passed on to their daughters, as well as subsequent generations of the family, a deep-seated ethic of commitment to high ideals, personal integrity, and compassion for others. The Gebbie legacy is consequently as much about the progressive and community-minded spirit, for which Mr. Gebbie as founder of the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company is remembered, as it is about the substantial resources provided by the foundation for an improved quality of life in Chautauqua County.
Frank & Louisa Gebbie: An American Success Story
Born in Scotland in 1844, Frank traveled to America with his family when he was a young boy, settling in Oneida, NY. His father was a “sawyer” (someone who sawed wood), and Frank and his brother, John, worked beside him in mills powered by streams that fed the Mohawk River.
Frank graduated from Cazenovia Seminary and in 1870 married Harriet Louisa Hubbell, daughter of a Sing Sing Prison warden. They moved to Brewster, NY where Frank worked as a supervisor at the New York Milk Condensery, established by Gail Borden, Jr.
While supervising over 100 people and purchasing milk from over 200 farms, Frank made it a practice to personally greet each farmer as they delivered their milk to the factory every morning. The couple moved to Lockport, NY and in 1874, the same year Borden died, Frank opened a fruit canning operation with John called the Niagara Canning Company. After his brother passed away in 1893, Frank sold the canning business and formed the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company with Michael Doyle, a young Irish immigrant entrepreneur.
Gebbie and Doyle developed and patented a can-capping machine in 1902. This innovation, along with the adoption of Borden’s food safety procedures, such as “Dairyman’s Ten Commandments”, helped make the Mohawk label synonymous with the best in quality and taste; a leader in a burgeoning industry that had been growing rapidly due to the importance of unspoilable milk for supplying troops in the Civil War, the migration to the American West, and expansion of the railroad industry. The first factory was built in St. Johnsville, NY, and before Frank Gebbie sold his interest in Mohawk to Carnation in 1921, additional plants were opened in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, and Sherman NY.
The Gebbie Daughters: Growing a Legacy
Of Louisa and Frank’s six children, two daughters survived into adulthood, Geraldine born in 1878 and Marion born in 1880. Moving from their birthplace in Lockport, NY, the girls grew up in St. Johnsville where they were educated by both private tutors and in the public schools, developing a fondness for arts and culture.
Geraldine studied music in Rochester NY and became a talented violinist. She married dairy farmer Earl J. Bellinger in 1908, a former schoolmate whose father was one of the milk providers to the Mohawk plant. Frank offered Earl a job at Mohawk and the newlyweds moved to Sherman NY where a plant had just been built. When the plant was sold in 1923, the local paper wrote, “Sherman people in general greatly deplore the going away of Mr. and Mrs. Bellinger, for they have especially endeared themselves in the community by their open-hearted generosity in every good cause.” The Bellingers purchased an estate on Chautauqua Lake in Magnolia, and Earl continued to operate his business interests in Corry and Meadville, Pennsylvania.
Marion attended college at Wheaton Female Seminary in Massachusetts, graduating in 1901 with an education in Liberal Arts and also excelled at the sciences. When the company offices were set up in Rochester, NY, Marion moved there with her parents becoming their companion, caretaker, and chauffer (one of the first women to learn to drive in NYS). Upon her father’s death in 1928, she received an inheritance that she increased by a factor of five through astute business judgment; a remarkable achievement at any time, but during the Great Depression, extraordinary. Alone in Rochester, Marion decided to move to the Magnolia estate where she lived with Geraldine and her niece, Janet, until her death in 1949.
The Gebbie Foundation Inc. – Established 1964
Shortly before her death in 1949, Marion wrote in her will: “It is my long cherished intention and purpose, and it is my will to establish an appropriate and permanent memorial to my father and mother. I have discussed this plan with my sister, and she and I are in accord in our desires to create and establish a foundation after the death of both of us.”
In December 1960, Geraldine’s will provided specifics: “In the event that said corporation is not formed or, for any reason, is not in existence at the time of my death, then I direct my said trustees and executors, to incorporate a charitable corporation under the laws of the State of New York, to be named Gebbie Foundation, Inc., in memory of my parents and for who the same shall be a perpetual memorial.” Sadly neither sister was able to see their vision realized as Geraldine passed away in 1963, but from the beginning Gebbie family members
actively served the Foundation as trustees. Geraldine’s son-in-law, William I. Parker (husband of Janet Bellinger), and her grandchildren, Geraldine Marion Parker and Bertram Bellinger Parker, were dedicated board members for over 4 decades. Nancy Waddell Gleason, great-great granddaughter of Frank and Louisa Gebbie, became a board member in 2005.
To establish the foundation, the sisters’ estates provided 10.6 million dollars. The first meeting of the directors of the Gebbie Foundation was held in the offices of attorney, J. Russell Rogerson, at the Hotel Jamestown in August 1964. Original directors, Rogerson, Katharine J. Carnahan, William I. Parker, John D. Hamilton, and J. Cornell Schenck resolved to carry out the provisions of the wills of Marion and Geraldine and base charitable giving on the example of their personal philanthropy. As a result many educational, humanitarian and cultural organizations in the region were developed and supported through funds from the Foundation.
New Focus: Same Intent, Different Approach
After the community came together to build the 21 million dollar Ice Arena in 2001, with a significant investment from the Gebbie Foundation, there was a noticeable shift in how people viewed the City of Jamestown. Positive change happened. Residents began to regain hope that restoring a struggling city might be possible after all.
This successful project led the Gebbie board to review the impact of past grantmaking and explore the possibility of a new model. Strategic planning sessions, facilitated by an expert in urban revitalization, led to a urning point in the focus of the foundation. For the foreseeable future, the
Gebbie Foundation would be proactive in grantmaking, investing in economic development initiatives to improve the fiscal health of the city. Collaboration with many partners, public and private, resulted in the construction of a new hotel; erection of the BWB professional office building; restoration of the Erie-Lackawanna Train Station; renovation of buildings, alleys, and building facades; and the development of downtown market-rate housing. At Gebbie’s 50-year anniversary mark, the vision is on the near horizon for the community coming together, yet again, to realize the development of the National Comedy Center.
The Gebbie Foundation, the perpetual memorial to Frank and Louisa Gebbie, established by the generous spirit of their daughters, has improved countless lives over its five decades of existence. It is this spirit, one of people and place, the foundation will continue to cultivate during the next fifty
years. Their legacy of hard work, innovation, and generosity should be an inspiration to all
Click here for a more in-depth history of the Gebbie Family
THE GEBBIE FAMILY
The following is an excerpt from the Gebbie Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Annual Report (1989) that was written by the late Alfreda Irwin, Chautauqua Institution Historian, on the history of the founding family.
The Gebbie Foundation’s original funds came from the estate of two sisters, Miss Marion Bertram Gebbie and Mrs. Geraldine Gebbie Bellinger. The two women chose to name the foundation in memory of their parents, Frank and Harriet Louisa Gebbie.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Gebbie appeared to have set a singularly happy tone in their family and home. From the Personals columns of the St. Johnsville, New York newspapers between 1892 and 1909, come items that record the church and community activities that the family enjoyed, their occasional travels and the recurring names of favorite friends. The growing prosperity of Mr. Gebbie’s business interests was also evident in the public notices of his company’s annual meetings and increases in the company’s capital and stock. As he opened branches of the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company elsewhere, his visits to those places were often reported in the newspapers. These were the busy “middle years” for Frank and Louisa Gebbie.
Frank Gebbie was born in Alston, Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1844 and was brought to America in 1851. Reports of the times are meager, but it is believed that his mother’s maiden name was Bertram and that his parents came with another couple: Margaret Bertram, his mother’s sister, who was married to James Gebbie, his father’s brother. The two families separated sometime after his arrival. Margaret and James settled in the Elmira area. The location of Frank’s boyhood years has yet to be discovered although there is hearsay evidence within the family that young Frank and his brother, James, often visited their cousins in Elmira.
At any rate, Frank must have matured into a very acceptable young man, for at age twenty-six, he married the daughter of the Honorable and Mrs. Gaylord B. Hubbell of Ossining, New York. Mr. and Mrs. Hubbell were prominent in their community. Mr. Hubbell had served in the State Assembly and had been Agent and Warden of Mt. Pleasant Prison, Sing Sing, 1862-1864. (He served another term, as Warden of Sing Sing 1873-1874.) At the wedding in the Hubbell residence, the Episcopal marriage service was read by Rev. William H. Phraner, an uncle of the bride.
The young couple set up their first home in Brewster, New York, where Frank was already working with Gail Borden, Jr., and the Borden Company. Mr. Borden had pioneered in the development of condensed milk patents and in 1864 had begun producing increased volumes of that product in a plant in Brewster. Frank Gebbie’s employment took the couple to Texas and Elgin, Illinois briefly before 1874 when the Gebbies settled in Lockport, New York. Gail Borden’s death in January, 1874, might have influenced Frank’s decision to enter the food canning business in Lockport that year.
By 1876 the firm of Frank Gebbie and Company is listed in the Lockport City Directory as is the Niagara Fruit and Canning Company. From 1882 to 1892 Frank Gebbie is listed in the directory as the proprietor of the Niagara Fruit and Canning Company. This led to a new investment in St. Johnsville in 1892, when Frank returned to the condensed milk business in partnership with Michael Doyle. Frank was manager and built up the enterprise so that he very soon bought out his partner and eventually expanded to other locations as well. They named their business the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company.
The choice of food processing as a life work probably reflects a number of influences upon Frank Gebbie’s life, as well as his own set of values. One strong influence may well have been the example of the dynamic Gail Borden, Jr. But the picture that emerges of Frank Gebbie as a family man would suggest that he himself placed importance on safely produced food, especially condensed milk, that could be used for the nurture of young children. While he was no doubt alert to the opportunities available to him for success, his business practices were judged to have benefitted not only himself, but others associated with him: the farmers who supplied milk to Mohawk, the young men who were trained in his plants and other employees.
The growth of the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company stimulated dairy farming in the area of St. Johnsville, according to the St. Johnsville Enterprise and News. Milk was brought to the cannery over quite long distances considering the state of the roads and the necessity to use horsedrawn wagons. The dairy farms were said to have kept pace the company’s demand for milk, with the result that the value of farmland increased. The dairymen were able to take advantage of improvements in farm machinery, increased acreages of corn and the use of silos to help them meet the increasing demands for milk. In addition, men trained in the St. Johnsville plant went out into industry to work in other places. In the January 2, 1902 St. Johnsville Enterprise, a Local Brief said that “about $600 was divided among the employees of the Mohawk Condensed Milk Company on Christmas in proportion to the length of service and position filled by the various employees.” Mr. Gebbie’s sharing of benefits in 1902 may be taken as an indication of his style of management.
He also extended his influence into another business which manufactured farm machinery, the Clark Company of St. Johnsville, where he was a board member and officer. It is apparent that all these efforts prospered and before Frank Gebbie sold his interests in the Mohawk Company in June, 1921, he had established satellite operations in Ft. Lupton and Johnstown, Colorado; Corry, Cambridge Springs and Bear Lake, Pennsylvania; South Dayton and Sherman, New York; Lansing and Holland, Michigan; and Waverly, Iowa.
While Mr. and Mrs. Gebbie had endured the personal tragedy of losing four children either in infancy or early childhood, their lives were graced by the two daughters who lived to adulthood and whose companionship they very much enjoyed. Geraldine G. Gebbie was born inLockport in 1878. Marion Bertram Gebbie was born in 1880.
Following the completion of her early schooling, Miss Geraldine chose not to attend college, but to study music privately with a professor inRochester. She achieved concert-stage virtuousity on the violin, but turned away from pursuing a professional career. Music was a great source of pleasure all her life, however. Her enjoyment of music and art would much later draw her into the center of activity at Chautauqua Institution which was only three miles from her Magnolia estate. At Chautauqua she heard an abundance of good music and met outstanding performers. She and her sister helped many young students in art and music reach their educational goals
In 1908 Geraldine was united in marriage with Earl J. Bellinger, a young man from the Minden area near St. Johnsville. The Rev. Mr. Phraner was called upon again to perform the ceremony as he had for the bride’s parents. Miss Marion Gebbie was her sister’s only attendant. The couple moved to Sherman where Mr. Bellinger was manager of the Mohawk Company plant.
Miss Marion Gebbie had chosen to go away to school when she was ready for more education. She was graduated from Wheaton Female Seminary ( Wheaton College ) in June, 1901. But she, too, was inclined to want to be helpful to her parents and to remain at home. Even at this early stage of her life, she was showing some signs of Paget’s Disease. This condition no doubt increased her shyness and sensitivity and later restricted her activities. She shared a great interest in art with her mother and sister. They also shared an interest in the new automobiles and a 1907 news item reports Mrs. Gebbie and her daughters’ attendance at the automobile show in New York City. Miss Marion was one of the first women in New York State to learn to operate a motor car and she took pleasure in serving as a chauffer to her mother and father. After she completed her formal schooling, she frequently traveled to Colorado and other places with her father when he was making business trips.
In 1909 she moved with her parents to Rochester where the Mohawk Company offices had been established. She devoted herself to her parents during their last years. She also gave time to charitable enterprises and to individuals who needed various kinds of help. Following her mother’s death in 1912, she remained with her father. In the years that followed, they began to travel to interesting places and take extended vacations in Europe or Honolulu, enjoying a quiet companionship.
After Mr. Gebbie’s death August 4, 1928, she inherited a comfortable patrimony which through careful management, she increased five-fold by the time she passed away in 1949. She lived the last almost twenty years of her life with her sister at Magnolia and took great pleasure in helping others through a bountiful sharing of her income.
Mrs. Bellinger had a busy life during her twenty-two years of marriage. Her husband had a wide reputation for being an extremely active man and a very hard worker. He not only managed the Sherman plant, but also other Mohawk plants in the eastern part of the United States. The couple also owned five big dairy farms, where progressive scientific farming was practiced. They produced large quantities of milk on the farm near Columbus, Pa., for example, for the Mohawk plant in Corry. Her husband had also inherited from his family two farms near St. Johnsville. For Mohawk he had invented a process to fill cans through a pinhole in the bottom to keep them airtight, with the small hole sealed by a drop of metal. The Bellingers were often in Corry for business reasons. There they stayed at the Phoenix Hotel rather than maintain a second home. Later after the Mohawk Company had been sold, Mr. Bellinger formed The Peak Products Company in Corry with some associates, to distribute fluid milk to the New York area, and to manufacture butter.
The couple were apparently popular and appreciated in all their different locations. When they were about to leave Sherman after the sale of the Mohawk Company, a newspaper article expressed the community’s regret, commenting on the Bellingers’ “open-hearted generosity in every good cause. Their interest in the young men of our community has meant much to the development of our youth. The number of young men who ‘have had their chance’ through their influences is legion,” the writer said.
Mr. and Mrs. Bellinger began spending summers at Magnolia and planned to build a permanent home there. Plans were somewhat delayed when Mr. Bellinger became ill and died in 1930. The home and the beautiful gardens of the Magnolia estate were completed following Mr. Bellinger’s death.
Mr. and Mrs. Bellinger were the parents of a daughter, Janet, born in 1914. During some of Janet’s school years, Mrs. Bellinger maintained a home in Jamestown where her daughter attended school. Later Janet attended National Park Seminary in Washington, D.C., and RollinsCollege in Winter Park, Florida. While studying music in New York City, she met and married William I. Parker. She and her husband lived in New York City until after World War II when they moved to Williamsville, New York, where Mr. Parker had established a business. While living in Williamsville, Mr. and Mrs. Parker became the parents of three children: John, who died in infancy; Bertram Bellinger Parker and Geraldine Marion Parker. Janet Bellinger Parker died in 1957 and is buried in the Glenwood Cemetery in Lockport, New York.
While living at Magnolia, Mrs. Bellinger was active within the Jamestown community and belonged to the First Presbyterian Church, the Garden Club and the Fortnightly Club. She had particular interest in the YWCA and especially during the Depression supplied the means by which personal problems could be solved for many women and girls. She always remembered her friends in Corry, as well, and maintained an active interest in the Corry Memorial Hospital. At the time of the construction of a new building, Mrs. Bellinger equipped the nursery and children’s ward.
Mrs. Bellinger was a trustee of Chautauqua Institution. She served actively from 1938 until 1961 when she was elected an honorary trustee. She was an original member of the board of the Chautauqua Foundation, Inc., and served until her death which occurred October 14, 1963. Burial was made in Glenwood Cemetery in Lockport, the burial site of her husband, parents and maternal grandparents.
Geraldine’s son-in-law, William I. Parker (husband of Janet Bellinger), was one of the five incorporators of the Gebbie Foundation, and the first secretary serving until his death December 7, 1994. Her grandchildren, Geraldine Marion Parker and Bertram Bellinger Parker, were dedicated board members for over 4 decades. Bertram Parker attended the Nichols School in Buffalo and graduated from Kenyon College. Geraldine Parker attended Temple University in Philadelphia, her studies included working with Special Needs children. Nancy Waddell Gleason, great-granddaughter, became a board member in 2005, and has served as secretary of the Foundation.