Our Story

 
The Martha Holden Jennings logo vintage style
 
 

What began over 60 years ago as a family operation, continues today with board and staff members that still embody the spirit of family. We are very proud to carry on the legacy of making a lasting impact on the students of Ohio, honoring the excellent teachers all across the state.

 

Our Founders

Together, Martha Holden Jennings and her nephew, Arthur S. Holden, Jr., founded the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation in 1959. Their intent was to recognize and support Ohio’s public school teachers and students, a population they believed had been overlooked in philanthropic circles in favor of higher education.

 
 
Martha Holden Jennings

Martha Holden Jennings

The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation was founded in 1959 by Mrs. Andrew R. Jennings, a Cleveland native with a deep interest in improving elementary and secondary public school education in Ohio. She envisioned the Foundation as a means to provide greater accomplishment on the part of our youth and their teachers. She hoped this would also bring greater recognition to the teaching profession. Mrs. Jennings lived for many years in Europe, where her husband worked as manager of foreign operations for the IBM Corporation. She returned to Cleveland in 1930 and lived at Wade Park Manor until her death in 1962.

 

Arthur S. Holden, Jr.

“Did we do a little good today?”

That question was often asked by Arthur Holden after listening to any report of the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation’s activities. Those fortunate to have had these conversations with him were often touched by the simplicity of his query, knowing well the profound impact his generosity was having on thousands of lives in classrooms throughout Ohio.

In every aspect, Mr. Holden’s life was marked by a deep love for his work, his family, his faith, and his philanthropy. He was a man of vision, a man of wisdom, a man of great generosity and kindness. Humble and good-hearted, he believed in hard work and never sought personal recognition.

Arthur S Holden
 

For almost half a century, Mr. Holden’s genuine concern for the well-being of Ohio’s children guided the Foundation in fulfilling its mission. As we move forward, we continue to be inspired by his seemingly simple desire to “do a little good” for the teachers and students of Ohio.

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A Family “Start-Up”

The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation bears the name of the woman who created the Foundation in her will, but the Foundation actually emerged from a relationship forged across branches of the Holden family tree that was rooted in the family’s long-standing commitment to community. Martha and her nephew Arthur became friends when Martha returned to Cleveland after many years away. Late in Martha’s life, Arthur worked with her to shape the decisions that led to the Foundation that has benefited education in Ohio for over fifty years since her death. The Foundation is truly the legacy of both these far-sighted individuals.

Martha Florence Holden was born in 1873 in Cleveland and grew up at East 79th and Euclid Avenue. She married Andrew R. Jennings, another native Clevelander in 1897. The young couple began a life that was most unusual for the time: they became early participants in what we now call the “global economy.” Andrew Jennings joined Thomas Watson in a business venture that became I.B.M., one of the great American companies. While Watson stayed in the United States, Andrew Jennings went to Europe to develop the business there. He and Martha remained in Europe until June of 1930 when Andrew retired and they returned to Cleveland to live at Wade Park Manor in University Circle.

On a return visit to Europe just a year later, Andrew suddenly took ill and died in a London hospital. Only fifty-seven-years-old, Martha had no children and had not lived in the United States for more than a quarter century. She returned to Cleveland and reconnected with family and old friends. With his passing, Andrew left his wife $750,000, a large sum for the time.

Over the coming years, Martha developed a strong relationship with her cousin, Arthur Holden, Sr., as well as his son, Arthur, Jr., and his young family. Martha became a regular part of picnics, Sunday dinners, and holiday gatherings. Arthur, Jr. welcomed the opportunity to learn from Martha and to serve as her confidante and support. Two branches of the Holden family had joined in a close, respectful relationship.

Eventually, Arthur introduced Martha to Harvey Hobson, an attorney who helped her shepherd her inheritance and make decisions about her finances.

Meanwhile, Arthur Holden, Jr., a Case Institute of Technology trained engineer, was creating his own place as a businessman and community leader. Two years after graduation, Arthur wanted to work in heavy manufacturing and he called a friend, Frank Milbourn, whose father owned Coe Manufacturing, a company whose roots went back to 1852. Mr. Milbourn challenged Arthur to join the company and show “what you are really worth". Sixty years later, Arthur still went to his office at Coe every day. Just as important as his business career, however, was Arthur’s devotion to the greater Cleveland community. He played major leadership roles at Lakeland Community College, Lake Erie College, the Cleveland Clinic, the YMCA, Kiwanis and many other institutions.

As Arthur’s support for Martha grew, they discussed the legacy she hoped to create. She made generous gifts to the Cleveland Clinic, University Circle, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Case Western University and others. But she still had to determine what her major gift would be. She was clear about her interest in fostering the best in young people through education, but she hadn’t determined how best to do that. Then, in 1958, Arthur happened to read an article about President Eisenhower’s White House Conference on Education.

The work of this conference resonated with Arthur and it occurred to him that philanthropy focused primarily on higher education, but little was done to encourage primary and secondary teachers in our nation’s public schools. He later called this idea a “happy thought” that he took to Martha as a new idea for that legacy gift. He later said, “She was a very intelligent woman, very alert and opinionated. You didn’t start out to tell her what to do, you sort of listened to what her thoughts were and then tried to encourage her thinking in what seemed to be a reasonable way to go.”

Arthur succeeded and the two branches of the Holden family tree, through two dedicated community leaders, joined together to create a lasting legacy that became the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation in 1959. Martha died after a short illness in August of 1962. Arthur Holden died in 2007, having spent almost 50 years guiding the Foundation in its important mission.


The Foundation Today

The Foundation was started with $11 million and since its beginning, through careful stewardship of the assets, the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation has made grants of over $150,000,000 to date. Today, it continues to provide over $3 million each year to support PK-12 education throughout Ohio.

The Foundation is still driven by people who are passionate about helping the educators and students of Ohio thrive in their schools. Each year we continue to be inspired by the work of so many educators leading the way in their field in ways that allow their students to grow and develop to their greatest potential, ready to meet the demands of our fast-changing world today.

We are also thrilled to be able to partner with many organizations around the state and the country who are thought leaders in education, and whose research and work serves as great inspiration to our Ohio educators. Elaborate….speakers, thought partner events, etc.

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