A Letter from the Executive Director and Board Chair

What a trip! 

Similar to a journey we’d been dreaming about for years, one that was carefully mapped out with months of planning, we were focused on our destination. We welcomed 2022 with our sights set on an aggressive fundraising goal that, if achieved, would propel our grantmaking efforts to the next level. The first leg was smooth, and most weeks, we traveled farther than expected. However, less than halfway through the year, an F3 tornado struck Gaylord, and in a matter of moments, our course was drastically altered. Instead of conversations about a vibrant tomorrow, we were consumed with making sure members of our community had the very basic needs to survive today.

We are excited to share with you the Otsego Community Foundation adventures of 2022 that truly resemble a road trip complete with:

  • Breathtaking scenic views of extreme generosity and true community spirit.
  • Occasional road bumps and potholes causing minor delays and, at times, roadside assistance.
  • Hidden gems, including special moments, unique partnerships, and behind-the-scenes efforts that made us eager to continue with faith that another would be up ahead. Click on the green icons throughout the report to discover these gems.
  • Challenging detours that tested us as individuals and as a group. With patience, thoughtful discussion, guiding policies and procedures, and help from friends and complete strangers, we summed up the courage to take the road less traveled.

Through it all, we were reminded that “The Way Forward,” even with the best plans in place, is full of unexpected twists and turns, yet we made it. We invite you to relive this incredible journey fueled by your generosity.


Dana Bensinger

Executive Director

Barb Brown

Board Chair

The Way Forward

A Campaign to Activate Pathways of Generosity for a Strong Community

At the end of 2021, we set an audacious goal for the Otsego Community Foundation in 2022—raise $2.5 M for the Funds for the Community through the Way Forward Campaign. Reaching this goal would almost double our grantmaking abilities. Why take such a big leap? Because we couldn’t sit back and wait to see what would happen; we were called to action. COVID-19 stretched our organization in ways that were unimaginable before the global pandemic. Our experience with the pandemic also exposed the importance of having flexible funds that can address the specific needs of Otsego County. We knew our community needed us to take this leap.  

Over 80 donors were part of this behind-the-scenes effort and helped us achieve our goal. Gifts came in different forms, multi-year pledges, stocks, and legacy gifts and ranged from $25 to the biggest gift in OCF history of $750,000.  Some donors who had Donor Advised Funds with the OCF converted them into a Fund for the Community.  An anonymous donor surprised us with an unsolicited $50,000 gift.  At Extreevaganza, 40 people raised their paddles for $100 each, putting pledges over the finish line.   

Reaching our fundraising goal was truly a community effort reflective of the deep-seated philanthropic spirit of Otsego County.

As pledges are completed over the next few years, the annual grant budget from these flexible funds will triple, allowing for the OCF to invest in projects and programs ranging in amounts and purpose from those that sprinkle love, spread hope, and touch lives to those that create partnerships, build bridges and change systems. 

The OCF Receives an Awesome Gift!

When Elaine Nowicki saw something good, she immediately acknowledged it and celebrated it, often with her signature battle cry, “AWWWesome!” A cheerleader through and through, Elaine encouraged and supported her husband, daughter, and grandchildren in everything they pursued, never seeking the spotlight for herself. She became such a fixture at her grandsons’ sporting events that people still miss hearing her in the stands. Brandie Meisner said her mom “encouraged the good in every moment.” 

After Elaine’s death in 2018, her husband, Mark, wanted to celebrate her life in a meaningful way. He established the Elaine Nowicki Awesome Fund at the OCF in her honor. In 2022, he made the ultimate investment in the community, converting the fund from a Donor Advised Fund to a Fund for the Community. He also made an awesome $750,000 contribution, the largest in OCF history. His gift reflects how important honoring Elaine’s legacy is to the Nowicki family. Through this fund, Elaine’s cheerleading spirit lives on, creating grant-making opportunities that will support local nonprofits for generations to come.   

The irony, according to Brandie, is that her mom would not want the attention. Instead, Elaine wanted the glory to go to the people and community she loved. The Elaine Nowicki Awesome Fund celebrates her in a way she deserves. As Brandie says, “We think she’s pretty awesome.”   

Funds For the Community

Making Otsego County Stronger, Healthier, and More Vibrant

Funds for the Community are a collection of funds established and grown by generous individuals, families, and businesses, complementing the Community Fund. These funds are unrestricted in nature, meaning the Otsego Community Foundation board and grant committee ultimately decide how grant dollars from each fund collectively would be best utilized within the community each year. The Dr. Patrick J. McNamara Fund was established in 2011, and the other 13 were established in 2022 as a result of the Way Forward Campaign.

Arnie and Pat Morse Fund

Bensinger Family Fund

Betty and Paul Hartmann Family Fund

Dale and Marlene Smith Family Fund

Dr. Patrick J. McNamara Fund

Elaine Nowicki Awesome Fund

Forreider Family Fund

Gall Family Fund

Kris and Joe Marsiglia Fund

LaLone Family Fund

Lochinski Family Fund

Meisner Family Fund

Nearing Nutter Family Fund

Stephen M. Qua Fund

Tornado Response

OCF’s Role in Recovery

On May 19th, our OCF team felt relieved. We closed the COVID-19 Fund earlier that day and were looking forward to some downtime before implementing our new strategic direction—The Way Forward. Creating and managing the COVID-19 fund and learning how to support Otsego County nonprofits through a pandemic stretched our organization and staff over the previous two years. We were tired. Yet our experience through the pandemic garnered the confidence we needed to take the organization in a new direction—a silver lining.  

Less than twenty-four hours later, a tornado touched down on the west side of Gaylord and ripped through the town, destroying homes, and property, and upending lives. Otsego County had not experienced a disaster of this magnitude or nature.  

Help showed up within an hour. The Council of Michigan Foundations was putting the final edits to their new Disaster Grantmaking and Operations guide. When they heard the news coming in from Gaylord, they hit SEND without delay. This document became an indispensable guide as we navigated this post-disaster landscape over the following days and months. More help arrived when Executive Director Dana Bensinger received a call from Sharon Mortensen, President and CEO of Midland Area Community Foundation, who helped navigate the 2020 floods in Mid-Michigan.  

“Start a fund,” Sharon advised. Dana did.  

The Tornado Response Fund was created. Swift action by the staff and the board on the night of the tornado helped meet some immediate needs of the community by securing shelter at Treetops Resort. An emergency board meeting on the Tuesday after the tornado allowed the staff to award grants of up to $20,000 where they were needed. Once the community’s immediate needs were addressed, the OCF turned to face the community’s short-term and long-term needs post-disaster, realizing recovery was a marathon, not a sprint. 

Donations came in from everywhere and did not stop. Over the next two weeks, the OCF staff processed over 1.5 times the number of donations they did in 2021, and 2021 was a record year. Our staff adapted, taking on jobs that needed to be done, and volunteers gave assistance we didn’t know we needed, sharing hours and helping our team complete critical tasks.  

Local and corporate businesses volunteered generous match gifts, which doubled the impact of our online campaign. In the aftermath, community members, neighbors throughout Northern Michigan, and support from all over the country generously gave in many ways. From common fundraisers such as special T-shirts designed and sold and percentages of sales from restaurants and other events to unique efforts such as tattoos and radio-a-thons, to name a few. Individuals and organizations shared their talents and ties to generate support.  

Help continued to show up in different and unexpected forms. While the public was focused on helping survivors, Community Foundations from around the state rallied to help us help others.  

At the end of three months, over $650,000 in grants had been awarded from the Tornado Response Fund.

Six months after the tornado, we were still recovering

By year’s end, we had made a lot of progress.  

Gifts from 1,800 donors across 37 states to the Tornado Response Fund totaled $1.6 million. $857,000 was committed to immediate relief, short term recovery, and long term rebuilding by the end of 2022.   

Grants from the Tornado Response Fund:  

  • Provided 1,658 nights of emergency shelter 
  • Rebuilt 26 homes 
  • Repaired 14 damaged vehicles
  • Replaced 5 vehicles that were destroyed
  • And so much more…

Managing the Tornado Response Fund required us to assume leadership roles beyond receiving gifts and awarding grants. The OCF invested many hours researching and finding solutions and answers to the community’s needs.  This included connecting with After the Storm, a nonprofit specializing in disaster response.  The Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) was formed to provide long-term assistance and support for those individuals affected by the tornado. The LTRG is a cooperative body of faith-based, nonprofit, business, government, and other organizations. As a result, case managers worked one-on-one with survivors to navigate recovery and present cases to a funding collaborative.  This collective process was made possible by the Otsego County United Way, Efree Church, Gaylord First United Methodist Church, St. Vincent De Paul, and OCF.

The OCF was a small piece in the larger puzzle of tornado recovery. The hard work of the Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group (GLTRG)  is detailed in their comprehensive report.  Click the button below.  *Please note the GLTRG report covers May 20th, 2022 through May 20th, 2023, the OCF annual report reflects the 2022 calendar year.  

If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together

– African Proverb

Board of Directors

Community Leaders Committed to Strengthening Otsego County 

Barb Brown

Board Chair

Cherie Nutter

Vice Chair

James Camiller


Brian Pearson


Bill Forreider

Justine Hees

Brandie Meisner

Pat Morse

Brian Switalski

Annette Wells

Bob Wilson

Katy Xenakis-Makowski






Scan the QR code or click here for an in-depth look at the 2022 financial statements.

Ways to Give

Providing Fuel for the Future

Meaningful gifts of all sizes have gotten us where we are today. If you want to be part of this progress, there are many ways to give.

Click on each box below to learn more.

Make a Gift

A gift to the Community Fund provides long-term charitable support to help all of Otsego County become stronger and ready for whatever needs will exist years from now.

Establish A Fund

Support a cause. Give directly to organizations you care about.  Create a family tradition of giving. Honor someone or pay tribute to a loved one’s memory.

Leave a Legacy

Including the Otsego Community Foundation in your estate plan is an easy way for you to make a significant impact on community needs and create a legacy that lasts forever.

Looking Back

Obstacles are Detours in the Right Direction

We arrived! It was not the smooth journey we planned for, yet with all the help we had along the way, we gave and gained more than we ever anticipated.

Looking in the rearview mirror, we see that obstacles may have outnumbered the hidden gems, yet the hidden gems far outweighed the obstacles. This collection of gems fueled our journey. Like any difficult journey, we can look back and see what we learned, the trials we faced, and the relationships we forged have positioned us to be a stronger organization moving forward.

Your generosity, your support, and your guidance made this journey possible. We could not have reached our destination without YOU!