Behind a Big Gift for Parkinson’s Research in Cincinnati

The James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Foundation generally holds its purse strings pretty tightly. Tightly for a philanthropy, anyway. Most of the gifts it makes are under $10,000, often to arts, education, and cultural organizations in Cincinnati, OH, Miami, FL, and Denver, CO, but also to pro-life religious entities. While occasional health-related gifts from the foundation are bigger, this is otherwise a funder that operates on a modest scale. As of early 2013, it had assets of about $62 million. 

But it’s amazing how personal experience can lead to big things for normally slow and quiet funders. James Gardner’s wife Joan has Parkinson’s disease, and in 2007, this inspired the foundation's record biggest gift ever, $5.5 million to create the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at the University of Cincinnati Neurosciences Institute. Its focus was making the center more patient-centric.

And now it's once again seeking to improve the patient experience with a whopping $14 million gift. It’s enough to honor the institute’s 15-year anniversary by building the institute a brand new headquarterrs designed to streamline the patient experience even further. It will allow for collaboration, and the development of educational activities for faculty, staff, patients, and their families.

“The Gardner family embodies what it means to pay it forward,” said Rodney Grabowski, UC Foundation president. “I am thankful for their philanthropic support at the UC Neuroscience Institute, which is sure to set a precedent that inspires others to give as well. Their generosity will positively impact lives for years to come.”

Even though the thread of giving generously to UCNI continues, the Gardner Foundation has had a tumultuous year, and that fact may be influencing their actions. James J. Gardner passed away about a year ago following a brief illness, even as his wife goes on. So in addition to commemorating the hospital’s 15th anniversary, we’re guessing this gift is coming as part of an “in memoriam” gift for James.

It’s quite a fitting tribute. We don’t smell spend-down, however. We see a lot of foundations like the Gardner Foundation that are relatively small, yes, but helmed by family directors and that keep giving for many years.