Two large portraits hang in the boardroom of the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation.
In one oil painting, George Eccles wears a dark teal suit over a white-collar dress shirt. He is seated, fingers of his hands intertwined in his lap.
His Texas-born wife, Dolores — “Lolie” to friends and family — is in the other frame looking like a true Southern belle in an elegant baby blue dress, with a draped neckline and a short strand of pearls around her neck.
Their expressions are serious and businesslike.
When Spence Eccles, the couple’s nephew, looks up at the two from his seat as chairman and CEO of the foundation that bears their name, he knows they are watching. They are, he said, a constant reminder of the “huge and humbling” responsibility he feels running one of the state’s largest charitable foundations.
“I don’t want to do anything that would be displeasing to George and Lolie,” the 84-year-old Eccles said of his aunt and uncle, who, in 1958, put their massive banking fortune into a fund they hoped would enhance the quality of life in Utah for generations to come.
George and Lolie need not worry. Their investment has been — and continues to be — a force for good.
Since 1982, the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation has contributed more than $600 million to Utah universities and hospitals, arts and cultural organizations, and community groups and preservation projects, according to a 90-page report, released Tuesday in conjunction with its 60th anniversary.
Communities from Logan to St. George and Delta to Moab have been beneficiaries of Eccles Foundation funds.
Many of the contributions have been large, like the multimillion-dollar donation made to build Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater or the University of Utah’s Institute of Human Genetics. There were gifts to help bring the 2002 Winter Olympics to Utah and to expand the U.'s Rice-Eccles Stadium. Gifts like these get media attention and the Eccles name above the door.
There are, however, thousands of smaller grants that have been given without the fanfare — from a city park in Tabiona to a mental health center in Moab to a museum in Payson.
Small groups, big needs
While the foundation started six decades ago, it became more active in 1982, after George’s death. In the subsequent years, the distributions to qualified nonprofit organizations have grown annually, the report states, from $481,000 in 1982 to more than $20 million in 2017.
During that same period, the number of organizations getting grants also has expanded — from 208 groups to 1,071.
Yes, every major college and university in the state has received Eccles Foundation grants to fund scholarships and facilities, but the Guadalupe School in Salt Lake City, Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant and Ephraim Middle School have been helped as well.
The Road Home, Neighborhood House and the Boys and Girls Clubs are regular Eccles recipients as are smaller social service organizations such as the Moab Valley Multicultural Center and the Adopt-A-Native Elder program.
While the Utah Symphony, Utah Opera, Ballet West and Utah Shakespeare Festival couldn’t survive without Eccles funding, arts and cultural programs across the state — from the Southwest Symphony and Chorale in St. George to the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute in Provo and the Helper Arts Council — have been touched by the foundation’s generosity.
All this from a decision made some six decades ago, explains Lisa Eccles, Spence’s daughter, who runs the day-to-day activities as the foundation’s president and chief operating officer.
“They could have spent their money on something else,” she said of her great-aunt and uncle. “But instead they put it into a foundation. It was very forward thinking and inspiring because they didn’t have to do that.”
The grants will continue to be available for the foreseeable future, because the foundation is set up to run in perpetuity. Current assets — based on 2017 market values — are more than $591 million, the report states, making it the state’s largest family-run foundation.
The Sorenson Legacy Foundation — founded by the late biotechnology pioneer and entrepreneur James LeVoy Sorenson and his wife, education philanthropist Beverley Taylor Sorenson — is a close second, with total assets of $530 million, according to the latest (2016) 990 IRS tax forms available at the Foundation Center, which monitors worldwide philanthropy.
The Huntsman Foundation, created by the late Jon M. Huntsman Sr. and his wife, Karen, has nearly $480 million, documents show.
One thing the Eccles Foundation won’t donate to — political groups. “Our job is to help nonprofits do their job better,” said Spence Eccles. “They are the ones in the trenches doing the hard work.”
To understand where the Eccles money originated, one must go back to the late 1800s and pioneering industrialist David Eccles. At 13, David and his family — recent converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — immigrated to the Ogden Valley from Scotland.
David’s father, William, was blind, and his young son worked to help support the family. That entrepreneurial spirit served David later in life when he started a lumber business — and several other enterprises — that supplied the booming railroad construction industry.
David died of a heart attack at age 63 while running to catch the evening train from Salt Lake City to Ogden. He left behind 21 children — 12 from his first wife, Bertha Marie Jensen, of Ogden, and nine from his second wife, Ellen Stoddard, who lived in Logan.
David’s polygamist marriage to Ellen wasn’t recognized under federal law, so a large percentage of the estate went to Bertha and her offspring.
However, it was Ellen’s children — Marriner, George, Marie, Emma, Nora, Ellen, Willard, Spencer and Jessie — who made the most of their father’s small inheritance.
Marriner had his father’s financial acumen and was able to consolidate his business and banking assets after his dad’s death. During the next decade, Marriner and younger brother George expanded their financial interests into dozen of banks and a building and loan, which eventually became First Security Corp. (now part of Wells Fargo).
The Eccles banks survived the Great Depression, which so impressed President Franklin D. Roosevelt that he appointed Marriner to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
George — who had earned his business degree from Columbia University in New York, where he met Dolores because students sat in alphabetical order — served as the chairman and CEO of First Security, a post he held for more than four decades.
The Eccles never had children, but their nephew, Spence Eccles— son of George’s brother Spencer — learned the family business and ran the banking empire for nearly two decades until its merger with Wells Fargo in 2000.
Spence Eccles serves on numerous community boards, cheers for his beloved University of Utah, where he was a member of a fraternity and an All-American competitor on the ski team. It’s also where met his late wife, Cleone — he keeps a picture of her in his suit jacket, over his heart. Today, Eccles, along with Lisa Eccles and Robert Graham, a tax attorney and trusted adviser, make up the foundation’s three-member board.
George and Dolores were hardly the only charitable members of the Eccles family. Six other children of David and Ellen have foundations named after them including the Nora Eccles Treadwell Foundation; the Emma Eccles Jones Foundation; the Marriner S. Eccles Foundation; Willard L. Eccles Charitable Foundation; Marie Eccles Caine Charitable Foundation; and the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation.
No wonder Utah is filled with buildings that carry the Eccles name.
For nearly 25 years, Wasatch Community Gardens has received an annual donation from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation for its youth gardening program, which it provides free to children in low-income families, said Executive Director Ashley Patterson.
While $20,000 a year is not on the grand scale of some Eccles grants, for the Salt Lake City program, it’s a lot of money,” Patterson said, noting that the gift helps hire an employee who gives some 1,800 children hands-on experience growing and preparing healthy food.
Patterson said her organization is just one example of the foundation’s reach. “You look around the community and see how many programs they fund,” she said. “It’s impressive what they do.”
Health and wellness are other areas of focus. The Eccles Foundation has provided state-of-the-art hospital facilities like the Institute of Human Genetics. It also supports the Fourth Street Clinic and others like it that provide access for low-income individuals
Four years ago, the Eccles Foundation gave the seed money to construct a new Outpatient Services building at Primary Children’s Hospital. The facility houses dozen of clinics and laboratories, making it a one-stop shop for young children — and their families — who have been diagnosed with life-changing illnesses from diabetes to spina bifida.
Last October, 8-year-old Nellie Mainor was diagnosed with dense deposit disease, a rare ailment that stops the kidneys from correctly filtering waste from the blood. With her kidneys failing fast, she required dialysis three times a week, blood transfusions and mores doctor visits than she can count. The Outpatient Services building at Primary Children’s has become her home away from home, said her mother, Sarah.
“A lot of lifesaving procedures go on in this building,” she said.
Donations like the Eccles' “changed the trajectory of heath care across the state,” added Katy Welkie, Primary Children’s CEO. “When people see that the Eccles Foundation has put their money toward a project, it makes others more likely to give.”
It also can change the medical experience for children and their families. Take, for instance, the sibling play area in the Eccles Outpatient Services building. It allows parents to drop off their other children before a medical appointment, so they can concentrate on their child who is sick.
“When you have this kind of philanthropy, you can do the extras that are palpable to patients and their families,” Welkie said. “It creates a level of care we want in this state.”
And those gifts become personal. Nellie Mainor, who likes to color and sing, may only be 8, but when she met Spence and Lisa Eccles recently, she knew enough about their family’s charitable giving that she thanked them.
“You saved my life,” she said, grabbing Spence’s hand. “I wouldn’t be here without you.”
No doubt, such sentiments would bring a smile to George and Lolie. After all, getting a name above a door is meaningful, but winning a place in a child’s heart is priceless.
Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, a son of Jon Huntsman Sr., is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.