Dan Davis: Bequest boosts classroom grant program

Simple but poignant conversations among siblings led to the creation of a new fund, a larger, more impactful grant amount and a new name for the classroom education grant program at the Community Foundation of Jackson County.

Don Klaes more than once told his sister, Julie Bradley of Brownstown, he always wanted to help somehow with the education of others. When Don, a Seymour resident, died in December 2020 at age 62, Bradley and her siblings established the Donald J. Klaes Classroom Education Endowment in his honor.

Don Klaes

“My brother, Don, was committed to education,” Julie said. “He was a graduate of Indiana University, and throughout his life, he continued his musical education well beyond his degree. During our conversations, he expressed an interest in helping today’s students with their education. By establishing this fund for classroom grants, it is our hope that each grant awarded will be used to enhance the curriculum, benefiting many students at once.

“For example,” she added, “classroom teachers could request grants to provide additional resources for books, materials, equipment, programs or activities to provide a richer student experience in the classroom.”

Effective this year, the fund, through a bequest from Don’s estate, will finance the Donald J. Klaes Classroom Education Grant Program. The program will make grants of up to $400 available to classroom teachers across Jackson County in a competitive application program, an increase from a maximum of $250 in the past.

The fund should be able to pay out perhaps 13 or 14 grants in this first year of the newly renamed program, and we are excited to extend the impact of the classroom education grants and to honor Don Klaes through the generous spirit of his estate and the efforts of his siblings.

Letters were sent to building principals that outline how the grant program works, and teachers may find a link to the application on the foundation’s website at cfjacksoncounty.org. The deadline to submit applications is Nov. 3.

Don also was a graduate of Seymour High School. He served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1985, playing with the U.S. Army Band while stationed in Germany. In addition to his work with local bands and community theater, he had played in the worship band at Seymour Christian Church and The Alley. He was an avid chess player and a longtime employee at Mactac in Columbus.

“Don was a gifted keyboard player who was well known for his playing in several groups, churches and with the Jackson County Community Theatre,” Dr. Chris Klaes said of his younger brother. “His talents were enjoyed by many as a member of the Ang Trio, Elements of Jazz and Sounds of Dreams. He also was an actor in multiple plays with JCCT.”

Prior to this year, classroom education grants were funded with earnings from the Jackson County Unrestricted Endowment, administered by the foundation. That fund was established by the board of directors with gifts from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help meet community needs within Jackson County. The program was started in 2001.

Generally, not all applicants can receive funding. The foundation takes a number of factors into consideration when awarding the classroom education grants. We have long wished we could fund more of the requests and provide larger grants. With this generous endowment from the estate of Don Klaes, we hope to see that come to fruition this year.

The classroom education grant program was designed to help bring to the classroom bold, creative ideas that will inspire students, foundation Vice President Sue Smith said.

“These grants are designed to fund highly creative but low-cost ideas,” she said. “It is our goal to encourage students and teachers to think creatively.”

The foundation has established education as one of its primary areas of emphasis and encourages teachers and their students to question, explore and find new answers to age-old questions.

“This means helping students to engage in learning in new ways and helping teachers to explore new ideas,” Smith said. “Teachers who want to explore new means, methods and bold initiatives will be in the forefront of this grant opportunity.”

Dan Davis is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Jackson County. For information about donating to the foundation, call 812-523-4483 or send an email to [email protected].

How to help

You, too, can help provide grant dollars to the Donald J. Klaes Classroom Education Grant Program by making a gift to the Donald J. Klaes Classroom Education Grant Endowment. Your gifts, large and small, can help grow the grant amount available. For information or to make a donation, call the foundation at 812-523-4483. Gifts may also be made online at cfjacksoncounty.org by clicking on Donate Now. Gifts may also be mailed to the foundation at P.O. Box 1231, Seymour, IN 47274.

About the foundation

The Community Foundation of Jackson County offers endowment services, gift planning, charitable gift annuities and scholarship administration.

It was created in 1992 and made its first grants in 1994. Since then, the foundation has awarded more than $11 million in grants and scholarships across Jackson County. The charitable nonprofit administers more than 200 funds with assets of more than $17 million. For information about making a donation or starting a fund, call Dan Davis at 812-523-4483.