The Origins of 9 Charities Named After People

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We often write their names on the "Pay to the Order of" lines of our donation checks, but how well do we know the inspiring people behind some of our favorite charities and foundations? A lot of charitable foundations are named after the celebrities or high-profile business tycoons who founded them, but others are named after the people who inspired their formations or generous souls with lower public profiles. Let's take a look at a few of these folks and their namesake charities:

1. Susan G. Komen for the Cure
The breast cancer research charity is named after Susan G. Komen, a Peoria, IL, native who received a breast cancer diagnosis at age 33 and died three years later in 1980. Komen's younger sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker (pictured), started the foundation in 1982 to help fund speedier breast cancer research.

2. Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
In 1981 Elizabeth Glaser, the wife of Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser, contracted HIV through a blood transfusion.

Sadly, both of Glaser's children also contracted the infection from their mother, and in 1988 daughter Ariel lost her fight with AIDS. Her daughter's death prompted Glaser to work with two friends, Susan DeLaurentis and Susie Zeegan, to start a new foundation to combat the spread of AIDS among children. Although Glaser passed away in 1994, the foundation is still running strong.

3. Fisher House Foundation

This foundation, which provides temporary housing for military families when a member of the armed forces or their dependents needs extended medical care, is named after its founders, Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher. Zachary Fisher, a prominent philanthropist, established the first house in Bethesda, MD, in 1990, and although he died in 1999, the foundation now runs 45 homes near military hospitals both in the U.S. and at foreign installations.

4. The Jimmy Fund
This Boston-based charity promotes cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It was founded in 1948 when a group of baseball players from the Boston Braves visited a young cancer patient named Jimmy in the hospital. The visit was broadcast on the radio, and hundreds of New Englanders were so touched by the boy's fight against cancer that they started offering donations. Nearly $200,000 poured in to help support the research of the 12-year-old's doctor, and the Jimmy Fund took off.

einar-ted-williamsThe odd thing about this story: "Jimmy" wasn't actually named Jimmy. He was really a 12-year-old cancer patient named Einar Gustafson. Radio producers referred to him as "Jimmy" to protect the boy's anonymity, and the name stuck. Gustafson actually recovered from his childhood cancer and lived a quiet life of anonymity. Over the years, the fund's coordinators lost track of Gustafson and assumed that he had died, but in 1998 he returned for the The Jimmy Fund's 50th anniversary. Gustafson (pictured, at left, with Ted Williams) then appeared at fund events until his death in 2001.

5. The Fred Hollows Foundation
This foundation may not be so familiar to American readers, but it works to treat and prevent blindness in Australia, Asia, and Africa. It is named after Fred Hollows, a New-Zealand-born ophthalmologist who spent most of his career traveling tirelessly through remote parts of Australia and other countries helping to restore the sight of patients who might not otherwise have had access to an eye doctor. Today, the foundation provides, among other services, low-cost, high-volume cataract surgeries throughout the developing world.

6. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The foundation that sponsors the legendary MacArthur Fellows Program, also known as the "genius grants," was the brainchild of John D. MacArthur and his wife, Catherine. In 1935, MacArthur bought the Bankers Life and Casualty Company and quickly began buying out smaller companies to build a vast insurance empire. When MacArthur died in 1978, he established this foundation, which liquidated his business holdings and began using the funds to give grants to particularly promising thinkers and cultural institutions. (Meet the 2009 MacArthur Fellows.)

RW-Johnson7. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The largest American health philanthropy has an endowment that tops $10 billion, which it uses to dole out nearly $500 million a year in grants for health and health policy research. Robert Wood Johnson II was the mid-20th-century businessman who transformed Johnson & Johnson from a regional company into an international health products powerhouse. When he died in 1968, Johnson left most of his $400,000,000 estate to the foundation that bears his name.

8. The Pew Charitable Trusts
This Philadelphia-based non-profit is another one of America's biggest charities, with assets worth over $5 billion. It is the product of the unification of a number of charities started by the children of Joseph N. Pew, who founded the Sun Oil Company. Today the Trusts carry out missions as diverse as advocating for the establishment of protected marine areas, funding the Pew Research Center think tank, and sponsoring the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

9. The Starr Foundation
This charitable foundation takes its name from American Insurance Group founder Cornelius Vander Starr, who started the organization in 1955. The foundation is active in making grants in a variety of areas, including health care, scholarships, and educational/historical centers.

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January 19, 2010 - 5:10am
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