Profile in Philanthropy: Janet Braun

Janet Braun happened to be standing beside Dean Mann one morning at a Chamber coffee and discussion between them settled solidly on the Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas and the grants it was awarding. She commented to him that several people, including her good friend Anne Emerson, were asking, “Why can’t we do that here?”

Dean shared with Janet his interest in establishing such a foundation and suggested they meet after the coffee in his office to brainstorm and develop a list of potential board members. From that impromptu meeting came the names of community leaders who would become the first board of directors for the Fort Scott Area Community Foundation, and Janet presently continues to serve on the board.

A history of service

This was not Janet’s first venture in community service. She had graduated with the class of ’59, FSHS, and received a degree in Elementary Education at Baker University in 1963. After teaching first grade for five years in Overland Park, she took “a sabbatical,” as she put it, while her children were small, earned an advanced degree in Special Education and returned to teaching for another 25 years. After retirement, she served on the USD 234 school board for 16 years. She also provided leadership for Good Ol’ Days from its earliest years and continues to work with that team.

One of her memories from the early days of the Foundation was that the board wanted to be able to make some grants the first year. Since there were no funds available, Janet said they “had to pass the hat among the board members” to provide for those first grants.

A legacy of giving

An important part of Janet’s continuing involvement is the Dr. Pratt and Pauline Irby Fund, established at Dr. Pratt’s death in 2010 as a memorial to the Irbys. It is a donor-advised fund, one of the several ways in which FSACF serves local residents. Janet and her brother Robert Irby and sister Mary Rio look for opportunities to use the earnings of the Fund to provide grants. Janet said it has always been the siblings’ intention to select grant options that “are the kinds of things our parents supported for their entire lives, and, as a family, we continue to believe in the Fort Scott Area Community Foundation.”

An anecdote explains their approach: Janet’s mother, Mrs. Irby, passed away in 2000, but Dr. Pratt, a much-beloved physician in the community, continued to enjoy his music and his friends. As he became less active, his good friend Howard Kivett began picking him up a couple of times a week to walk in downtown Fort Scott. They would walk a bit and stop to rest on one of the benches along the sidewalk. They enjoyed spending the time together and visiting with whoever might pass by. Dr. Pratt called Howard his “walking partner.” When the need arose for benches to be purchased for the new garden walk that is part of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, Janet, Robert, and Mary knew this was a perfect project to honor their parents and their lives of generosity and compassion.