Diving In, Ramping Up: How the Zarrows Have Been Giving in Tulsa Lately


In the past, we’ve touched on the giving of a few different branches of Oklahoma’s Zarrow family. This is a family with deep roots in Oklahoma that, like so many other successful entrepreneurs here, earned its wealth in the oil and gas industries.

Lately, one of the Zarrow family foundations has really been stepping things up in terms of grantmaking, with multi-million-dollar local gifts becoming the norm. Henry Zarrow of the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation passed away in 2014 at the age of 97, leaving his trustees and staff to pick up the family philanthropy where he left off. In a recent year, the foundation reported $473 million in assets and around $40 million in grants. So this is a substantial funder. 

Over the years, Henry Zarrow described his wife, Anne, as the driving force of the family philanthropy. Yet Anne passed away back in 2000. Their mission was always to give in ways that prevent poverty. Most of that giving has been centered on education, homelessness, and support for children.

Recently, the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation gave a $6.7 million grant to the Tulsa Habitat for Humanity. This large sum will expand the organization’s reach to make it easier to find affordable housing. With a focus on the Kendall Whittier neighborhood, the group will buy more properties for renovation and new construction to transform the area.

So, who’s running the show now that the founders are no longer with us? A man by the name of Bill Major has served as Zarrow’s executive director for many years. He says that affordable housing is one of the foundation’s key priorities and expects that this money will make Habitat’s efforts a self-sustaining endeavor over the next five years.

“There’s a tremendous need,” Major said. “Our partnership with Habitat is just one of many strategies that we’re using to build more workforce housing in the city. They’ll be able to do this for decades because of this initial seed grant.” Along with other agencies, he said, Tulsa Habitat’s new initiative “will create the opportunity for all Tulsans, regardless of income, to have a safe, decent shelter, and a place to call home.”

However, affordable housing isn’t all that Major and the foundation team have been interested in lately. (That team includes a program director, program associate, grants administrator, and administrative coordinator of foundations.)

Making the recent local news, the Zarrow Foundation has supported homeless and neglected pets, cooking for charity and renovations to a historic ballroom. It’s also been a lead donor in funding a treatment facility for addiction, mental illness and trauma, early literacy with the Tulsa City-County Library, and gave $2.3 million to the OSU Center for Health Sciences to improve rural healthcare this past summer. Mental health has been a big cause for this funder lately, as the bulk of that OSU grant is going toward mental health and addiction medicine.

And we’re not the only ones who have been noticing this recent surge of Zarrow giving. The Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice honored the foundation at its 59th annual awards in October, and both the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation and the Zarrow Families Foundation were named winners of the 2017 HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships earlier this year. The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation received the latter distinction for its $41 million investment in affordable housing for nearly 3,000 low-income veteran, youth, mentally ill and homeless people in Tulsa.

So, if you’re in the Tulsa area, this is definitely a foundation to get to know better these days. Organizations elsewhere in Oklahoma occasionally receive this funder’s support, too, as well as some Jewish-related causes in Israel. There are two online grant request deadlines each year, and the next one is coming up January 15.