Covenant Place recognized for philanthropic fundraising

In this 2012 file photo Covenant Place resident Lieb Ganz talks with Rebecca Handler during a Connecting Generations Shabbat program. Ganz,a longtime resident at Covenant, passed away recently and left a significant amount of money to the facility. Photo: Kristi Foster

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

As plans proceed for the replacement of its aging residential facilities on the Millstone Campus, the newly renamed Covenant Place is receiving accolades for its innovative fundraising.

“It means that we’re doing the right things,” said Kristi Meyers Gallup, development director. “It is validation from others who watch what the nonprofit world is doing that we are making a strong case for what we are trying to achieve.”

The senior housing complex will be honored at the seventh annual St. Louis Legacy Awards. The program, organized by the YouthBridge Community Foundation and the St. Louis Planned Giving Council, has recognized a donor, an adviser and a nonprofit for their forward-thinking philanthropic efforts every year since 2008. In addition to Covenant, this year’s honorees include Dale Knight, a donor to the St. Louis Zoo and Lawrence Katzenstein, a private client partner at Thompson Coburn law firm. 

Previous organizational winners have included well-known St. Louis names such as St. Louis University, Boys & Girls Town of Missouri, and the foundations for both St. Louis Children’s Hospital and SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. The Jewish Federation of St. Louis was honored in 2011.

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Covenant Place is “definitely the smallest nonprofit they’ve ever given this award to,” Gallup said.

The organization announced in December plans to replace at least two – and perhaps all three – of its buildings on the campus. Construction could begin as soon as this fall. The project is scheduled to be financed through a capital campaign and tax credits.

“We have an immediate need for gifts and capital dollars but, at the same time, we’re mindful that we want to be around for the next 40, 50, 100 years,” Gallup said. “So to the extent that we can build our endowment, to the extent that we can get people to think about always making sure that this resource is available to the community, we’re going to use this platform of the campaign to do that.”

Executive director Joan Denison agreed, citing the success of the Create a Jewish Legacy campaign administered by the Jewish Federation and how much it helped Covenant. 

Denison said the capital campaign has been a springboard for conversations with donors on longer-term matters.

“It is an opportunity for them to say, ‘I want to be part of that future vision,’ ” she said. “ ‘The way to accomplish that is by leaving a planned gift. I’m going to help you build these buildings, but I also want you to carry on this mission of helping older adults to age successfully.’ ”

Gallup says it can be a difficult conversation but one that is vital to have. She credits the generosity of community philanthropists for their dedication. 

“They know that they don’t live forever. None of us do,” she said. “They want to make sure that the things they care about are here after they are gone. Sometimes they are very forthright about it. We’ve had donors who have made capital gifts to the project and have said, ‘You are part of our estate plans. When I am no longer here, Covenant Place will be getting some of my financial resources.’ ”

Sometimes, that can come as a surprise. Denison and Gallup recalled the story of Leib Ganz, a Holocaust survivor from Romania. After his liberation from the Mauthausen concentration camp, Ganz wanted to go to Israel but wound up in the United States. Settling in St. Louis, he eventually became a longtime resident of what was then Covenant House, where he became widely known as the unofficial mayor of the institution. He received a substantial settlement from Germany for his wartime experiences.

Gallup said that when Ganz passed away recently at age 95,  staff clearing his apartment were touched to find the trunk he brought from Europe – still marked with the address of the St. Louis Jewish Federation. 

Ganz left a significant amount of money to Covenant.

“Truly, the people who lived and worked here were his family,” Denison said. “Because of his generosity and concern for others to have what he had living here, we will also be able to name a very special place in the new building to honor his name and his legacy.”

Harvey Hieken of Chesterfield wants Covenant to be a part of his legacy. He’s been involved in supporting the building campaign and is including the organization in his will. He said Covenant is the right answer for seniors.

“It is so close to the J for physical and entertainment facilities,” he said. “You couldn’t plan a better location.”

Timing is also a factor. The population is aging and starting to stress resources nationwide.

“People like me are living longer than expected so they get more people coming in and staying there longer,” said Hieken, 88, a Jewish Light board member. “The need is really there. That’s the reason I support it.”

Not only are people living longer, but they are arriving sooner at senior housing communities like Covenant Place. Hieken said contractions in the job market in recent years have forced more early retirements, leaving people on limited incomes just before they hit their golden years.

Denison said the U.S. Census projects a 230 percent increase in adults over the age of 85 by 2050, making Covenant’s job more important than ever.

“As we not only have the baby boom generation going into the senior demographic but also people living so much longer, we really have to be thoughtful about putting infrastructure in place to support an aging community,” Denison said. 

The presentation and reception for the St. Louis Legacy Awards will be June 26 at 5:30 p.m. at the Third Degree Glass Factory, 5200 Delmar Boulevard. Tickets are $75 each. Visit for more information.