In the past decade, Modesto's Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation has spent more than $99 million, with many of those millions helping children, feeding the hungry and comforting the dying.
It's one of three heavyweights in local charitable giving, along with the Ernest Gallo Foundation and the Julio R. Gallo Foundation.
They provide something rare in the San Joaquin Valley: a stable base of nonprofit giving that supports arts groups, schools and community organizations.
A 2006 Irvine Foundation study showed that nonprofit giving in Stanislaus County far outpaced other valley counties. The Gallo and Rogers foundations were largely responsible for that charity.
"They inspire everyone else in the community to give as well," said Harold Peterson, chief executive officer of Community Hospice. "The big foundations are able to leverage others to step up and give, too. Everyone wants to be part of a winner. Their gifts generate other money."
A well-known example: The three foundations funded the $15 million endowment for the Gallo Center for the Arts, which provided the momentum Stanislaus County and other private donors needed to start building the $40 million venue.
Since it opened in fall 2007, more than 400,000 people have attended events at the Gallo Center. And more than 4,000 people have donated to the facility.
While the three foundations came together for the Gallo Center and have been strong supporters of Catholic institutions, they have taken different tacks in their philanthropy.
The Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation has spent millions on scholarships for students in elementary school through college in several states, including several hundred Rogers Scholars at California State University, Stanislaus.
Its giving also has been broad and deep, supporting Catholic schools, social service agencies, arts groups, and colleges and universities in several states.
"If it weren't for them, we wouldn't be able to continue with outreaches," said Cynthia Coughlin, executive director of Central West Ballet, which has benefited from $48,000 in contributions from the Julio R. Gallo and Mary Stuart Rogers foundations since 2005. "A lot of the other grants haven't come through, particularly in the last two years."
The money the ballet gets from the foundations helps it put on daytime performances for children -- shows that often are the students' first experiences with fine arts.
The Ernest Gallo Foundation has been more targeted in its contributions. It gave $800,000 to Notre Dame University, $600,000 to Stanford University and $3.835 million to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, according to its 2008 return filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
Its giving has increased significantly since Ernest Gallo's death at 97 in March 2007, rising to $5.3 million in 2008. Prior to that year, his foundation kept its net assets around $22 million, and distributed $1 million to $2 million annually.
Its net assets swelled to $54.68 million, boosted by a $19.6 million contribution from the Ernest Gallo Trust, according to its 2008 return.
The Julio R. Gallo Foundation, which reported net assets of $22.08 million on its 2008 return, gave away $7.3 million from 2004 through 2008. During that time, its philanthropy in- cluded more than $1.6 million to St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Modesto and $286,000 to the Oregon State University Foundation.
The differences in how and where foundations spend money reflect their differing priorities, said former Mayor Carol Whiteside, founder of the Great Valley Center.
"It's your money, you get to decide," she said. "There are so many needs in the world. How can you question giving money to a children's hospital or for medical research?"
Carnation Foods heiress and Modesto resident Mary Stuart Rogers started her foundation in 1985. Sons John and Jim Rogers took the reins after her death in 1993.
Jim Rogers died a year later, and John Rogers and his wife, June, have run the foundation since.
The results of some of its efforts are obvious, from the Mary Stuart Rogers Birthing Center at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock and the four buildings bearing the Rogers name at Modesto Junior College and CSU, Stanislaus, to the Gallo Center's Mary Stuart Rogers Theater.
The Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation spent $30 million building the first phase of Samaritan Village, a Hughson senior retirement community.
The foundation has been prolific in providing scholarships to Catholic schools in the area, from Modesto's Central Catholic High School and Turlock's Sacred Heart School to St. George Parish School in Stockton.
"Both (the Gallo and Rogers) families have been extremely supportive of Catholic education," said Central Catholic President Jim Pecchenino.
Returns filed with the IRS from 2000 to 2008 show the Mary Stuart Rogers Foundation spent more than $99 million during those years.
The foundation had net assets of $70.43 million in 2000. Its net assets were $11.58 million in 2008.
"The money is not important to me," said John Rogers, a 69-year-old Hughson resident and retired Air Force colonel. "It's the ability to give back of what I've been a custodian of. My responsibility is to share that."
The foundation's philosophy is to help those who help themselves. So, undergrads can become Rogers Scholars after completing their first two years of college and earning good grades.
Rogers said the foundation is in a more conservative mode as it rebuilds its assets. He said that when the stock market was roaring, the foundation used those gains in its charitable giving. He does not regret how the foundation spent its money and the projects it supported.
"The decisions were good," he said. "The decisions were honorable, but the assets did not keep up with demand. I don't intend to lose any more of my principal. I've learned to say no."
More than 50 years of help
Brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded the E.&J. Gallo Winery in Modesto as Prohibition ended in 1933 and turned it into an international powerhouse. The brothers started their foundations in the late 1950s, according to GuideStar, a Web site that tracks nonprofit organizations.
The Gallo family declined to be interviewed for this story. But Bob Gallo, co-chairman of the board of E.&J. Gallo Winery and son of the late Julio Gallo, issued this written statement:
"These two foundations were established individually by Ernest Gallo and Julio R. Gallo a number of years ago. The founders had guidelines for each of the foundations which are still followed today and include contributing to causes and programs which support health and science research, education, religious programs and social services.
"Our families are proud of the assistance these foundations have been able to provide over the years and we remain committed to helping to strengthen our society."
The Julio R. Gallo Foundation bought the McHenry Mansion in downtown Modesto in 1976 and donated the 1883 pioneer home to the city for restoration and public use.
Julio Gallo also saved The Salvation Army's Red Shield Community Center in southwest Modesto about the same time, said Dick Hagerty, a Salvation Army board member since 1971.
The center provides after-school programs, sports, tutoring and other services for low-income children. Hagerty said Salvation Army officials in San Francisco had threatened to close the center because of its finances.
"Julio Gallo silently stepped forward and came up with the money," Hagerty said, adding that Gallo, who died in 1993, was a longtime Salvation Army board member. "He did not want any publicity. He swore us to secrecy."
Ernest Gallo donated millions to establish the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California at San Francisco to seek a solution to alcohol abuse. The clinic does research on the genetic, biochemical and neurobiological aspects of alcohol abuse.
Some other Gallo family members have their own foundations. For instance, the Bob & Marie Gallo Foundation reported net assets of $7.71 million on its 2008 return and charitable contributions of $259,550.
The three biggest foundations are not the only ones in the region. Others include the Stanislaus Community Foundation, which reported donating $855,000 on its 2007 return, and the Bright Fam- ily Foundation, which donated $574,000 in 2008.
But they have played a major role in transforming the region.
"I think they have been gold to our community," said Hag- erty, who has been active in the local nonprofit scene for nearly 40 years. "What would our community be without the Rogers and the Gallos? They have really come to the fore for this community."
Bee staff writer Lisa Millegan contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.