Donor Profile: Polly Grose

Polly Grose, Levé president Megan Dobson Cudahy’s grandmother, is one of Levé’s most generous and most distant supporters. The Minneapolis resident has pledged $10,000 to Levé’s Challenge Fund, which will be used to match individual donations made to Levé this year and to encourage giving among younger generations. Currently totaling $65,000, the Challenge Fund is a critical component of Levé’s 2013 fundraising campaign, and Polly’s generous contribution has helped catalyze other major gifts. For Polly, the urge to give back to her community started in childhood. “The models in my life were my parents,” she recalls, “and as the eldest child, I grew up with a strong sense of what the world meant to them.” Polly remembers her mother volunteering indefatigably for the Red Cross during the Second World War and for decades after the war ended, and, says Polly, “there was always a sense that we owed something back to the community in which we had prospered, as well as to the needy across a more global sense of community.”

Polly absorbed this lesson from an early age: at nine years old, she received permission from her school’s principal to direct a production of Little Red Riding Hood, with all proceeds to go to Bundles for Britain, a program which sent clothing and medical supplies to a United Kingdom devastated by war and struggling under severe rationing. “My parents’ example was right there, day in and day out,” Polly explains, “and listening to my parents talk about the war, you got a sense of troubles beyond home base. So I went to my principal and began to be proactive.”

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For Polly, her childhood activism presaged a lifetime of proactivity and volunteerism. Her career path defied many women’s of her generation: while raising three sons, she began volunteering with Planned Parenthood and with Minneapolis’ famed Guthrie Theater. She was elected the first Chair of the Guthrie’s Board of Directors, and because she had spent so much time fundraising for it, she transitioned into a paid role as its Development Director, and moonlighted in Director roles at both the St. Paul Companies and the Tonka Corporation. And then in 1984, she married David Grose, an Englishman, and moved to London, where she ended up working for the Fulbright Commission. After David died in 2002, Polly moved back to Minneapolis, where she has rejoined the Guthrie Board and still is a powerhouse fundraiser for them. In recent years, she has turned to writing, and has won plaudits for works that range from creative nonfiction to plays to a memoir about her London days to a history of the Guthrie Theater.

Her adventures and diverse professional experiences have left her with an awareness that community isn’t only a local concept, it’s a global one. And it has also instilled in her the knowledge that giving back to your community – whether local, regional, or global – can have a huge impact, which is precisely why she supports Levé.

“What I admire about Levé, why it fulfills such a need in this country,” explains Polly, “is that it empowers the younger generation and women to pay attention to community needs. Your generation is so professional and important, and there isn’t a lot of time to spend on developing contacts within the community or to work for the community good,” she continues. “In my generation, we had more time to become involved in the community. But yours needs something like Levé, with its strong emphasis on developing leadership for women in the community, and for developing the capacity to give money to worthy organizations and to fulfill needs within the community that needed to be filled. I just thought that was a sterling concept, and I don’t know that it exists in any other city.”

Today, she says, she uses the example of Levé to a number of community leaders in Minnesota who are wondering how to encourage younger people to engage with their community and to serve the greater good. “I’m proud of Megan, and proud of her network,” Polly says. “Levé makes the community a better place and helps its members to think beyond day-to-day tasks. I want to make sure that every woman, every person can fulfill their potential in life: that’s been at the heart of all that I’ve done, and that’s one of the reasons I think Levé is so crucial.  I just think it’s an extraordinary model. From my perspective, I think it’s very important for leaders of a certain age to reach out to the generations that are younger than you, to transmit their love of humanity to those coming up. That’s why I donate to Levé.”

Levé’s goal to grow philanthropy and volunteerism in our communities and in younger generations is certainly a cause which reflects Polly’s own ambitions. She has spent a lifetime working within the community, dedicating her time, her resources, and her considerable talent to various worthy organizations and campaigns. “I believe that the world needs a sense of global community, and a global commitment to a philanthropic ideal. You have to take risks, throw yourself behind things, get involved with that community,” Polly declares. “Levé is such a strong organization with a strong mission. I believe it can spawn similar organizations throughout the country. I’m 80 years old and still going strong, and I am looking forward to watching it grow.”