07 Dec McMullen’s leadership set course for Hutch CF
By Wendy Skellenger | Hutchinson Community Foundation
Sandra McMullen lived a life in front.
In 1974, she led the Kansas Senate campaign for Democratic candidate Bill Roy.
When Jimmy Carter ran for president in the mid-1970s, she helped pilot the Kansas campaign.
She assisted in overseeing the state’s higher education programs with the Kansas Board of Regents, becoming its chairwoman in 1981.
And in 1989, as its founding president and executive director, she shepherded a new philanthropic concept in Reno County known as Hutchinson Community Foundation.
For 11 years, McMullen built the foundation into not only a powerful mechanism for connecting donors with causes they believed in but also into a driving force for community improvement.
“She was a good relationship developer, so it was easy for her to connect with people and she could do that with donors, with people who directed nonprofits, with people who relied on the nonprofits in our community to provide service to them,” recalled Lynette Lacy, former Hutchinson Community Foundation president and executive director who served as the foundation’s first program officer under McMullen. “She really had a wide-ranging ability to connect with so many different voices in our community.”
By the time McMullen retired from the post in 2000, foundation assets had grown from an initial investment of $400,000 to around $25 million.
After living for 30 years in Hutchinson, having moved here from Kansas City, McMullen and her husband, Dr. Joseph McMullen, eventually moved to Carbondale, Colorado. There Sandra McMullen joined the Rotary Club and was a member of St. Sopris Catholic Church.
Described as “a force, a hustler, an activist, the ‘Queen of Collaboration,’” McMullen died Nov. 27, in Lakewood, Colorado, at age 82. She would have turned 83 on Dec. 8.
Born in 1935 in Emporia to Paul and Virginia (Bergerhouse) DeBauge, McMullen attended the University of Kansas and taught English in the Kansas City school district. She married Joseph on June 2, 1961, in Kansas City.
In addition to her leadership interests, McMullen’s passion for politics led her to become a member of the League of Women Voters and a participant in spirited political debates. But it was through her work at the community foundation, according to her obituary, that her “true philanthropic spirit found a home.”
“She started doing the work because she saw the need when the organization was still grassroots, when she made phone calls from her home, and when the Foundation was housed in donated office space at The Compound,” her obituary stated.
Lacy described McMullen as a “visionary” for Hutch CF, placing the foundation at the forefront of what such institutions could be. She understood that a “community foundation’s role was not just to raise money” but to serve as facilitator and convener, a concept, in those days, other foundations across the country were only just beginning to embrace, according to Lacy.
“That was very different than other community foundations in the state at that point – very different,” Lacy said. “She was the one people came to from across the state to get ideas about how to get community foundations started, not just the technical aspects of it but also this notion of the convener role that the foundation played.”
Never one to seek the spotlight, McMullen employed a collaborative, hands-on style and if she needed education to better understand an issue, she would seek it. McMullen led some of the community foundation’s first large-scale funding initiatives, among them 1997’s “Break the Mold” school reform program, a three-year $180,000 Hutch CF grant.
That thirst to be informed and broaden one’s understanding of situations manifested in McMullen’s love of news and newspapers. Despite no professional tie to the industry, “She would go to newspaper conferences all over the country with Peter Macdonald [former editor and publisher of The Hutchinson News],” Lacy said.
McMullen passed that notion of valuing knowledge on to Lacy during her early years as program officer, when a three-person staff conducted the foundation’s work.
“She had such faith in me. … She really instilled that in me to better understand all factions or all groups of people that were connected to an issue.
“She was an important person in my life,” Lacy said.
McMullen is survived by her husband; sons, Robert and Joseph; daughters, Karla Klossner and husband David and Paula Wright and husband Eddie; and nine grandchildren.
Services were held Dec. 6 at Our Lady of Fatima in Lakewood, Colorado. Memorials may be left to the Sandra McMullen Fund for Hutchinson at Hutchinson Community Foundation, P.O. Box 298, Hutchinson, KS 67504, or by visiting hutchcf.org.
“Sandra’s legacy lives on today in the way that we value and build relationships with the people who live here,” said Aubrey Abbott Patterson, president & CEO of Hutchinson Community Foundation. “She taught us that all voices matter and that together, through true collaboration, our community can do anything.”
Wendy Skellenger is the communications officer at Hutchinson Community Foundation. Email: email@example.com.