The Helen V. Froehlich Foundation: Funding for Lake George, But Also Botanical Gardens

While she was known as the quiet older woman who hiked around New York State’s Lake George with her dog Frodo, Helen Voltz Froehlich lived a life of adventure, going on mapping expeditions in the Yukon, climbing mountains, and writing books. Her devotion to the outdoors, and the place she eventually called home, inspired a foundation that continues to fund conservation and botanical gardens.

The Helen V. Froehlich Foundation was founded in 1993, not long after Froehlich passed away at age 91. The foundation is devoted to conservation of Lake George and Lake George Basin, at the base of the Adirondack Mountains in New York. The funder makes about $2 million in grants a year, and while the lake is the biggest cause, it's also given millions to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Chicago Horticultural Society over the years.

The foundation’s giving has been an extension of Helen Froehlich's deep love for nature and the Lake George region, and her involvement in that community after she settled in there for the last 20 years of her life. 

Not many people who saw her sitting quietly at community meetings or at the Lake George Opera Festival would likely have guessed the life she led, as outlined by her niece in a touching article for a local magazine. Married twice, first to a Canadian geologist, she spent her days exploring the outdoors, photographing wilderness, cross-country skiing. She even shot a moose. 

After her first husband died in a car accident, her family’s much older, wealthy lawyer courted and eventually married her. The two lived in Highland Park, Illinois, where she began writing, including two published children’s books. Her second husband died in 1970. 

At 72, Froehlich built a house at family getaway Lake George and named it Rivendell, referencing the home of the elves in Tolkien books. She spent her golden years inconspicuously, enjoying the outdoors. And then less inconspicuously, after she passed, left behind a foundation that would give about $1 million a year to three groups benefitting the Lake. She once wrote about her love of nature, as cited by the profile in Mirror:

When you are a very small human being alone on a hilltop you understand that for a moment that such things (all the problems of our lives) don’t matter. There is a buoyant sense of peace that stays with you even after you get back to the turmoil and start struggling and worrying again. Underneath there is balance. We find that we have the strength for the battle knowing that, whatever happens, the good earth has always nurtured its people and will still be there for wiser generations to enjoy.

There’s no question the foundation is there for Lake George, but over the years, Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Chicago Horticultural Society (Chicago Botanic Garden) have also been major beneficiaries, receiving $400,000 to $550,000 grants in most years. 

The foundation is quite focused, but to find out more about guidelines, contact Karen Cortese, senior vice president of The Northern Trust Company, 50 South LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois 60675.