The West Foundation began as a legacy gift left by Harold B. West as a part of his will when he passed away in 1956. Incepted as a private, non-operating foundation in December, 1958, its first gifts were dispersed in 1959.
Mr. West’s interest in the developing world came about through service for many years on the Missions Committee at First Congregational Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Monies for the foundation came from his private fortune, which was established through his business, West Baking Company. The business was created following Mr. West’s studies at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where he learned that in times of economic crisis, bread and milk sales stay stable as they are staple items for the pantry. Upon completing an internship at a bakery in Washington, D.C., and duty as a Captain in the U.S. Army during World War I (where he established a bakery in Dijon, France which produced 800,000 lbs. of bread per day to feed U.S. troops), he relocated to Indianapolis and started his business in 1919.
A well-established business by the end of the 1920s, West Baking Company did much more than survive the financial crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. In fact, it thrived as one of the largest independent bakeries in the U.S., making a soft white loaf called West Yum-Yum Bread. Bread baking at the company continued until 1969, when the company moved into production of specialty breads such as hamburger rolls and English muffins. The company was eventually sold to a larger regional bakery, West Golden, in 1987.
After Mr. West’s death, Hilda Kirkman West, his wife of more than 30 years, took the reins of the newly formed foundation as its board chair. She was ably assisted in this by her two sons, Richard and Stephen, and their wives, Florence and Phyllis. Mrs. West continued to be active with the foundation board until her passing in 1984. The foundation gained many long-term partners during her tenure as president, including CARE International and TechnoServe, both of which remain partners of the foundation to this day.
Following the passing of Hilda West, her eldest son Richard, and his wife Florence, formed their own giving fund, the Westwood Foundation. Mrs. West’s younger son Stephen took over at that time as board chair, and he and his wife Phyllis added a third generation of the West family to the foundation by inviting their daughter Emily to join the board. By this time, the face of philanthropic giving was changing from unrestricted gifts to an annual fund to project-based giving. Additionally, the public advent of the internet in 1992 added a flood of proposals and requests to consider, causing the foundation to ask Emily West to accept its first paid position as Executive Director and to begin formalizing its operations by opening its inaugural office in 1996.
Stephen West passed away in 2010, prompting his wife Phyllis to assume command as board chair and president of the foundation. Today, the organization has recently added two fourth generation family members, Rebekah Jones and Suzanna Bloom, both great-granddaughters of progenitor Harold West. Apart from its gifting program, the foundation consults with a select group of young non-profits, researches potential grantees for individual donors and advises other small foundations on best practices in relation to communications with current and potential grantees. In doing so, the West Foundation hopes to add to the legacy laid out by Harold West in his original gift to the developing world.