MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A stunning announcement from the Plough Foundation. It will give away its remaining assets and stop operating in the next 4 years.
The foundation has had an incredible impact on the lives of so many in Memphis and Shelby County since its creation 59 years ago.
In 1908, at the age of 16, Abe Plough started the Plough Chemical Company in Memphis using $125 from his father. He built it into one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. Plough’s business acumen was matched by his tremendous generosity.
The “I Am A Man” Plaza in Downtown Memphis was made possible by a $900,000 grant from the Plough Foundation.
“Thank God for this being in Memphis,” said retired Memphis sanitation worker, Elmore Nickleberry. The monument honors him and the rest of the 1300 sanitation workers who walked off the job to protest the need for better, safer working conditions in 1968.
"In 1969, Abe Plough wrote a check for a million dollars," said Bob Fockler, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. "He was driven to change the city for the better."
The Community Foundation connects wealthy donors with needy causes. A decade earlier, Plough had already established his own fund, the Plough Foundation. Since 1960, it's given out $300 million in grants to non-profits.
The Plough Foundation helped MIFA feed hungry senior citizens, enabled the Southern College of Optometry to conduct eye exams on the elderly and allowed Habitat for Humanity to weatherize seniors’ homes. The foundation gave the Memphis Public Library Foundation $314,000 to buy its JobLinc mobile bus, and paid for the creation of the UT Health Science Center’s College of Pharmacy, teaching and training pharmacists to the biotech industry.
More recently, the foundation awarded OUT Memphis $125,000 grant to build an emergency shelter for LGBTQ youth.
"There was a national study done a couple years ago," said OUT Memphis executive director Molly Quinn, "that found 40 percent of youth found on the street identify as LGBTQ."
A Plough Foundation grant established the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission in 1997, an agency that seeks solution to crime problems in the Bluff City.
The foundation infused needed funding into the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, provided the Memphis Crisis Hotline with $34,000, and gave the Methodist Healthcare Foundation $1 million to improve its Sickle Cell Center.
One of the most visible gifts transformed the Harahan Bridge into Big River X, the largest pedestrian crossing over the Mississippi River.
“You do the greatest good when you help the greatest number of people," said Plough.
In a notice to the community about ending operations, the Plough Foundation wrote,
“This has been demonstrated by its longstanding support and creation of initiatives over the years, supporting such areas as health and social services, Jewish organizations, the aging population, arts, public education, the homeless, crime prevention, conservation and countless civic improvements in Memphis and Shelby County.”
Plough's daughter, granddaughters and board of trustrees ran his foundation after his death in 1984.
No reason was given for why the Plough Foundation is closing. Information about the remaining grants will be released next spring.
“The important thing to Abe Plough,” said Bob Fockler, “wasn’t to be known for his generosity. It was to make Memphis and Shelby County a better place. I think Mr. Plough’s legacy is probably the most important legacy that Memphis has.”