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Posted on Thu. Jan. 10, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

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Who will lead Fort Wayne into the future?

Deaths, institutional changes create opportunities for others

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Because communities are only as strong as the people and institutions in them, transitions induce not only a reflection on the old but curiosity about the new:

How will the future compare to the past?

Recent changes at two Fort Wayne philanthropic organizations and the passing of two relatively unknown but noteworthy men, and the city's response to them, will help answer that question.

Sandi Kemmish, longtime director of the Lincoln National Foundation – historically a major contributor to the arts and other local projects -- is no longer with the company, an apparent victim of corporate downsizing. And while Kemmish declined comment, she did say she expects funding will continue in Fort Wayne, the financial services company's headquarters until moving to Philadelphia in 1999.

That sentiment was echoed by spokesman Michael Arcaro, who said “our commitment to investing in communities is unchanged.”

That assurance is welcome, because any change at the top of an institution that has been so important to so many for so long is bound to arouse interest, if not outright concern. Just last month, for example, the foundation awarded about $330,000 in local grants designed to promote workforce development and economic growth. Previously, the foundation donated $500,000 for a pavilion at Headwaters Park and $750,000 to the Grand Wayne Center.

In 2012, Arcaro said, the foundation made more than $2.5 million in grants to 92 non-profit agencies in Fort Wayne, "and in 2013 our strong level of support in these areas will remain unchanged."

Lincoln has been a supporter of the arts, and Arts United Executive Director Jim Sparrow admitted to having some initial concerns. But “it appears there will be no real change,” he said.

Change is also in the works for the city's Capital Improvement Board, where Chairman Ben Campbell is expected to move to Indianapolis because of his executive position with Star Financial Bank. Campbell has quietly but steadily become a key member of Fort Wayne's corporate community – not the least reason being that he had led a board that is expected to have about $89 million to spend within 15 years.

That money comes from the 1 percent tax on food and drinks sold at local restaurants, and Campbell has been vocal about the need to spend the money in ways that are both measurable and will create long-term economic growth.

His replacement would be selected by the other six members of the board – three each appointed by the city and county. Board member and County Councilman Larry Brown said a change in leadership would bring some degree of change, even if the vision remains similar.

“The president steers the train,” Brown said.

But despite changes in leadership, institutions and can be influenced by those who remain. When individuals pass, however, they are not so easily replaced. The deaths of John B. Kalb, 77, on Dec. 20 and James Lattimore, 91, on Jan. 2 created voids not so easily filled.

As I wrote a year ago this month, Lattimore was a ground technician with the famed “Tuskegee Airmen” of World War II, an all-black fighter squadron that achieved a remarkable combat record despite the segregation and bigotry of the day. Just last October, Lattimore had been honored by the alumni association of Central High School. And while we can be thankful that the institutional racism Lattimore met with such determination has largely been overcome, the need for such bravery and tenacity never really ends.

Kalb's determination was of a different kind, but also very important – a passion hinted at by his obituary, which remembered him as a “very involved and passionate Fort Wayne citizen.” And so he was.

Whether you agreed with his conservative politics or not, you had to admire Kalb's role as a thorn in the side of politicians he thought weren't doing their jobs. He was a frequent guest at public meetings, opposing the downtown Harrison Square project, questioning tax breaks for companies and higher city water rates and unsuccessfully fighting the sound barrier erected behind his Wildwood Park home.

Even his wife Judy ultimately concluded he had been wrong about the last one – but that should not obscure the fact that Kalb cared enough to get involved in the first place.

Who will work to ensure a strong philanthropic base here? Who will take the role of chief steward of millions in capital cash? Who will fight injustice with the quiet determination of Lattimore, or perceived bureaucratic follies with Kalb's public vigor?

Fort Wayne's future awaits a response.

kleininger@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.


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