The Douglas County Community Foundation received the largest single gift in its 13-year history Tuesday when the Gill-Harrison Foundation gave it a generous donation.
In announcing the gift, the amount of which was not disclosed, benefactor Beth Harrison spoke about her love for Lawrence.
“Having lived here since 1972, I feel that Lawrence is my home, even though I no longer have family here,” said Harrison, whose husband, Phil, a longtime local real estate and insurance executive, died in 2011 at age 68. “It’s a wonderful place to live.”
Asked what she liked about the community, Harrison, now a resident of Naples, Fla., who still spends time in Lawrence, responded: "I love all of the cultural opportunities available here in Lawrence. We have all of the activities of a large city with the friendliness of a smaller community."
The previous largest single gift to the Community Foundation was the $4 million Lawrence philanthropist Tensie Oldfather gave in 2000 to start the organization, which supports a variety of charitable causes in the community, from educational to cultural to environmental (Oldfather went on to leave about another $3 million to the foundation, making her its largest overall benefactor).
The Gill-Harrison donation, which will set up a permanent fund at the foundation, honors the mark their family left on Lawrence.
In 1923, M.R. and Blanche Grey Gill settled in Lawrence, buying two insurance firms that became M.R. Gill Real Estate.
Their daughter, Pauline, and her husband, Bob Harrison, who had come to Lawrence to study geology at Kansas University, took over ownership of the business in 1950 and operated it for 42 years.
Phil Harrison, the son of Bob and Pauline, moved back to Lawrence in 1972 after attending graduate school and working elsewhere (he had received his bachelor's degree at KU). He joined the Gill Real Estate Agency, serving as its vice president until the business was sold in 1995. In his free time, Phil was an avid pilot and aviation enthusiast.
Phil and Bob Harrison, who died in 2011 at age 95, were both members of Lawrence's Noon Kiwanis Club, Board of Realtors and Board of Independent Insurance Agents and bell-ringers for the local Salvation Army.
Beth Harrison, a former music teacher and band director in McLouth, has long been interested in music, participating in the Lawrence Music Club, Motet Singers and Plymouth Congregational Church's music and choral programs. The couple were also big supporters of Kansas Public Radio.
"They were truly instrumental in the growth and prosperity of the community through both their work and community service," said Chip Blaser, executive director of the Douglas County Community Foundation. "I think this gift is proof of their intention to continue to see the community grow and thrive."