THE HISTORY OF THE SMZ FOUNDATION
Sherman and Marjorie Zeigler, both of whom were born, raised, and lived their whole lives in Muncie (Marjorie said this was one of the things she was proudest of), were two community leaders who had long felt that increased attention needed to be given to endeavors dedicated to enhancing the natural beauty of our community and state. The Zeigler’s were early supporters of Ball State University’s tree-planting efforts, helping to found and fund a campus tree nursery in the late seventies. In 1984, the Zeigler’s decided to go a step further and established the Sherman & Marjorie Zeigler Foundation to help prioritize and fund community beautification efforts. Along with a secondary focus on fostering civic pride through the financial support of celebrations, festivals, and cultural events, Sherman and Marjorie felt such efforts would help to improve the Quality of Life for all residents of our community. At the beginning, the board of the Foundation was composed simply of Sherman, Marjorie, and long-time friend Robert Glenn.
The first grants from the Foundation were awarded in the mid-1980’s to the Delaware County Historical Museum and the downtown Muncie Public Library for landscaping improvements. Grants were also made for beautification efforts along White River Boulevard. In 1988, Steve Anderson, President of First Merchants Bank, was added to the board. This year also saw the creation of what Sherman and Marjorie considered to be their first “real project” -- the creation of Fireman’s Park at the NW corner of Jackson and Madison Streets, in partnership with the Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County and the City of Muncie. Unfortunately, Sherman passed away this same year. However, Marjorie’s leadership ensured that the work of the Foundation would continue unabated.
In 1989, Richard Zeigler, youngest son of Sherman and Marjorie, joined the board, along with John Worthen, President of Ball State University, and Len Betley, an Indianapolis attorney with a wealth of non-profit experience. While the Foundation continued to award a variety of small grants for various beautification efforts in the city, the Zeigler’s had always hoped that the initial focus and efforts of the Foundation might serve as catalysts and inspire others in the community to join in and recognize the importance of such efforts. As with the above-mentioned partnerships formed to undertake the creation of Fireman’s Park, it did not take long for this to occur. Significantly, Earl Williams, who at the time was Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County, along with community leaders Doug Bakken and David Sursa, met with Marjorie in 1990 to discuss plans to form an organization whose mission would specifically focus on fostering beautification efforts and bringing together the resources of citizens, government, and industry to enhance and improve the natural beauty and Quality of Life of Muncie and Delaware County. Mr. Williams convinced the board of the Community Foundation to make a four-year commitment of $25,000 per year to honor Sherman Zeigler to fund projects to be undertaken by this organization, which was named Environmental Enhancement Projects (EEP) and which operated within the structure of the Community Foundation. The Sherman & Marjorie Zeigler Foundation agreed to provide operating funds for EEP, as well as project funds on an “as needed” basis. Shortly thereafter, a capital campaign was conducted to raise $100,000 as an endowment for beautification projects to be overseen by EEP. Eventually, and with the Community Foundation’s encouragement, in 2002 Environmental Enhancement Projects evolved into Community Enhancement Projects (CEP), a free-standing 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity with its own officers, directors, mission and fund-raising activities. To this day, the Zeigler Foundation continues to provide operating support for CEP, while CEP, the fiscal sponsor for the Foundation, serves as the primary vehicle through which the aims and many community beautification projects of the Sherman and Marjorie Zeigler Foundation come to fruition.
The first large-scale project undertaken by the Zeigler Foundation under the auspices of EEP/CEP was the beautification of Tuhey Park in 1990, the results of which are still very much in evidence today. The beautification of Washington Park and various triangles and median strips throughout the city quickly followed, along with the installation of planters along Walnut Street, the beautification of entryways into the city, and the creation of another new city park, Riverbend Park. The Zeigler Foundation decided to annually contribute one-half of the salary of the Muncie’s Urban Forester to ensure that this program would continue (as it has to the present day). The Foundation also continued to build partnerships around beautification efforts with numerous other local organizations, including the Ball Family Foundations.
By the mid-nineties, the Foundation’s endowment had grown significantly with the continued addition of gifts by the Zeigler family. Not coincidentally, the Foundation also began to turn its focus to beautification efforts along the White River, Muncie’s most significant natural amenity.
Their first efforts (in partnership with Ball State University, the City of Muncie, and others) involved the creation of four overlooks placed along the levee banks of the White River. This was followed (again, in partnership with many other entities and foundations) by the creation and execution of a plan for a six-mile long corridor trail along the White River, now known as the White River Greenway. This project, which is now under the auspices of Cardinal Greenways, will finally be completed in 2020.
The Sherman and Marjorie’s Zeigler Foundation’s work has continued unabated from its inception to the present day. Richard Zeigler became President of the Foundation in 2009 and remains in that role. In 2018, Marjorie Zeigler passed away after a short illness. The Foundation continues to serve as a catalyst for community involvement and investment in beautification efforts throughout the City of Muncie and Delaware County. Furthermore, the work of the Foundation has expanded over the years to include contributions to other City amenities (e.g., the construction of the performance stage at Canan Commons) as well as providing support for local celebrations, festivals, concerts, and other cultural events.