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Quiet Phipps Foundation has huge historic impact on Hudson community

Jim Steel, left, served on the William H. Phipps Foundation Board for 17 years beginning in 1995. Fred Nagel, center, is the second generation to serve on the William H. Phipps Foundation Board. He was appointed in 1973 and continues on the board to this day. Gordon (Gordy) Anderson, right, served on the William H. Phipps Foundation Board for 27 years from 1984 to 2011. Photos by Margaret A. Ontl1 / 3
This is a rare photo which ran in the Hudson Star-Observer on Nov. 15, 1962, which included some members of the William H. Phipps Foundation Board of Directors. From the left are, Hugh Gwin, Phipps Foundation Board; George Mueller, hardware store owner; R.G. Varnum, Phipps Foundation Board; Ted Besser, director of the Hudson Hospital; and J. Curtis Burkholder, Phipps Foundation Board. Seated is R.V. Burke, co-chairman of the Hospital Fund Drive, receiving a $50,000 donation for the convalescent wing of t...2 / 3
The board of the directors of the William H. Phipps Foundation in 1985 included, front from left, Howard Wilcox and Hugh Bryce; back, Hugh F. Gwin, Marie Blakeman and Fred Nagel. Phipps Center for the Arts archives3 / 3

Newcomers to town may not be aware that the William H. Phipps Foundation has been quietly working in the background to make Hudson a better place to live since it began in January of 1946.

In the 66 years since, those who have served on its board of directors have been few and quietly chosen for their interest and commitment to the Hudson area. Within the last year two long-time board members have retired from the board. Those two, along with a third, a second generation member who is still on the board, agreed to share their personal stories as well as their thoughts on the organization which together they have served for over 82 years.

Fred Nagel

Fred Nagel was born in Hudson. He graduated from Hudson High School and went off to college in 1940. After serving in the United State Coast Guard, he had a successful career in the budding aeronautical industry where he worked at both Hughes Aircraft and Rand Aeronautical in California from 1948 until 1965. Nagel returned to Hudson with his California bride, Thelma, to join his siblings in the family business, Central Lumber.

"It was the year of the flood," recalled Nagel. A short time after his return it was decided that the family would sell the lumber company. However, because of his involvement with the lumber industry, Nagel soon became fascinated by land development which led him to become a real estate broker and eventually an appraiser, a business he now operates with his daughter.

In 1973 Nagel was elected to the William H. Phipps Foundation board of directors to replace retiring board member J. Curtis Burkholder. Nagel's father Emil was one of the founding board members of the Phipps Foundation serving from 1946 until his death in 1966.

"Today the foundation is more generous in a less generous way," said Nagel. "In the early days the foundation gave out small amounts."

The foundation was first organized to get a hospital in Hudson. The first gift towards establishing a hospital was designated in 1946 at the request of the founder, Stephen C. Phipps. In the years since the foundation has been generous regarding improvements and most recently donated five million dollars to the new hospital.

"One thing I got involved with from the very beginning was The Phipps Center for the Arts," said Nagel. "Art is such a broad term it can be music, painting, speaking. My wife Thelma really got me going on the idea that we needed an art center."

The St. Croix Valley Arts Guild was the precursor to The Phipps Center for the Arts. The foundation assisted with the purchase and remodeling of the Elks building and The Phipps Center for the Arts became a reality. While they are separate entities, the center is still supported in part today by the foundation, "I think the foundation is important because if it weren't for the foundation we would not have many of the things that make Hudson great, the hospital, Wintergreen, The Phipps Center for the Arts and many others."

"I like to keep active," said Nagel, who continues to serve and keeps a history of the foundation, written by founding member Hugh F. Gwin. Nagel is the only remaining board member who met Stephen C. Phipps, the original benefactor of the foundation.

"We rely on the stock market," said Nagel. "Responsible management and use of our funds is the board of director's responsibility. We meet twice a year."

Gordy Anderson

"It was a privilege to serve with so many fantastic people," said Anderson, who was recruited by Marie Blakeman to join the board of directors in 1984.

"My background in the community was helpful having served as the Chairman of the United Way, and on the board of the First National Bank." Anderson was also active in Rotary, with the Chamber of Commerce and sat on the Hudson's Industrial Committee and was the district manager for Northern States Power at the time he was appointed.

A native of Rice Lake, he came to Hudson in 1965 as a supervisor for Northern States Power, now Xcel Energy. Anderson started his career at Wisconsin Hydroelectric in Chetek as a lineman. It was later acquired by NSP. He worked his way from lineman to district manager for NSP.

"Now it would be almost impossible to do that," said Anderson, who advises his grandchildren on how to be successful, "Do what is required and then do a little more."

The Phipps Foundation is basically responsible for The Phipps Center for the Arts and gave a key donation, $5 million dollars, to the new hospital, commented Anderson.

"We also have given to more than 40 organizations during my time on the board," said Anderson.

"When we were approached by the Hockey Association it was impressive to see how the parents got on board and were active in the process."

Anderson took on the role of advocating for support of youth organizations, including Youth Action Hudson, the YMCA, Hudson Boosters, Bridge for Youth With Disabilities.

"We haven't received any new funds as long as I can remember," said Anderson. "The important job of the board members is to manage the funds, and over the years we have given millions of dollars to the community. No member of the board has every received any compensation. Not even so much as a dime or a cup of coffee."

"We don't have fundraisers period," said Anderson. "We live off our investment."

Anderson retired from the Phipps Foundation Board of Directors in December of 2011.

"I am very pleased with our accomplishments since I have been on the board," said Anderson, "both by helping worthy recipients and by successful management of our funds. I hope it will go on forever."

Jim Steel

Jim Steel, a native of Ladysmith, married and moved to Hudson in 1957.

"I first came to Hudson in 1955 to audit the city of Hudson books," said Jim Steel. As an accountant he served as a municipal auditor for the state of Wisconsin for 28 years. In 1980 he was made the Northwest Area Supervisor, which included Pierce, Polk, Burnett and St. Croix counties. He had 42 clients including schools and communities. That was the agency's specialty.

It was a service provided by the state, which the communities and municipal bodies could participate in if they wanted to. After retiring from the state, Steel served for seven years at St. Croix County Finance Director, retiring from that post in 1989.

"I had been the counties auditor for 28 years so I was qualified for the job," Steel said smiling. Throughout his years in Hudson, Steel volunteered for dozens of groups including, some of them for decades such as the Willow River Cemetery Association. He joined the Phipps Foundation board in 1995 and served until May of 2011.

"I think it's important because we provide the seed money for various projects, such as the Wintergreen, the hockey arena and more. We are local and we support local projects," said Steel. "It is important to have a foundation to do that locally."

We have been able to do a lot of good over the years," said Steel. "From Boy and Girl Scouts to the Hudson Boosters we have just helped a lot of local projects that needed support.

"I think a lot of people confuse us with The Phipps Center for the Arts. We were instrumental in getting that started," said Steel, who was active in the St. Croix Valley Arts Guild, the precursor to The Phipps Center for the Arts. He made his Hudson acting debut in 1970 as a cast member in "Our Town."

"I was surprised to be asked to serve on the board," said Steel. "It was an honor." He was asked when the board expanded from five to seven members.

Steel came to Hudson, raised a family and has been volunteering since day one.

"It is kind of infectious," said Steel, "Every time I get involved with something else I just love it, being active and engaged in the community."


The William H. Phipps Foundation is a 501(3)(C) organization. It was founded in January of 1946 and historically, has operated quietly behind the scenes. The foundation was organized as a Wisconsin corporation by Stephen C. Phipps in 1946 and named after his father, who had been land commissioner of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Stephen was born in Hudson in 1878 and lived here until 1945, when he moved to Seattle. He was a graduate of Hudson High School and the University of Wisconsin. He was an officer of the U. S. Army in France during World War I.

Like his father, Stephen Phipps was president of the First National Bank for many years. Stephen also had timber interests in the State of Washington and British Columbia.

The foundation was authorized to promote and administer charitable, benevolent, educational and religious aims, and the promotion of cultural advantages within the state of Wisconsin, and particularly in St. Croix County, and establish a hospital. Changes in the federal laws since its founding, resulted in its not being able to contribute specifically to religious organizations.

On Jan. 9, 1946, five Hudson men were appointed as directors. They were Joseph Yoerg, cashier of the First National Bank; Cecil E. Day, assistant cashier; Emil H. Nagel, vice president of Central Lumber Co. of Stillwater and president of Local Lumber Co. of Hudson; John M. Hughes, land commissioner of Northern Pacific Railroad; and Hugh F. Gwin, attorney-at-law.

Both Stephen Phipps and his wife Helen C. Phipps gave western lumber companies stock to the foundation. The state and federal governments granted income tax exceptions to the corporation.

In a letter dated Jan. 29, 1946, he states, "In my opinion, the city of Hudson needs a hospital. It is my request that a hospital be built with the funds of the foundation and be operated by the city of Hudson." Stephen's desires became a reality, with additional funding, as did so much more, thanks to his continuing support of the foundation.

Dr. John C. Harding, who lived in Hudson for many years and was a friend of the Phipps, also gave a substantial sum to the foundation before his death and left the bulk of his estate to it in 1962.

Stephen E. Phipps died on April 19, 1977, at the age of 98 years. After other bequests were met he left the balance of his estate to the foundation.

The hospital has continued to be the major charity of the foundation, but it has contributed generously to The Phipps Center for The Arts, as well as dozens of civic, youth, community and cultural activities.

The first directors were appointed. Remaining members elected others to fill vacancies. The following group of civic leaders have served on the William H. Phipps Foundation Board of directors: General Carl R. Gray, Harry J. Blakeman, Judge Robert G. Varnum, J. Curtis Burkholder, Frederick E. Nagel, Howard Wilcox, Marie B. Blakeman, Fred C. Anderson, Gordon R. Anderson, Hugh G. Bryce, Jim Steel, Ken Heiser, John Clymer and Kitty Rhoades.

The board is presently made up of seven directors changing from five to seven in 1995.

The foundation may receive money, stocks, bonds, stocks or other property from anyone. However, in the 66 years it has existed it has not conducted fundraising for the foundation itself, instead the board has prudently managed the funds and relied on voluntary contributions.

"It has really been something that looks at the needs of the communities on this side of the river," said present board member John Clymer. "The needs of the communities have evolved a lot for the last 15 years." As circumstances change the foundation may refocus its efforts.

"Now you have crisis needs," said Clymer. "We need to consider where you can do the most good."