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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Giving Back

During a time when funding for local music and arts is dwindling, the Mesker Music Trust ensures they always will be remembered.

The trust was created between 1940-1941 with a $250,000 bequest from the estate of George L. Mesker, the founder of George L. Mesker and Co., which is commonly known as Mesker Steel. Its original purpose was to fund “music in Mesker Park or in other parks in the city,” according to the structure of the trust.

Mesker was born in Evansville in 1857. By the early 1900s, Mesker Steel was a leading producer of cast iron and sheet metal storefronts in the U.S. After his death in 1936, Mesker left property and funds to build Mesker Park, Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Gardens, Mesker Amphitheatre, and the music fund.

Each year, Patrick Koontz, vice president and senior trust officer at Fifth Third Bank, whose Management and Trust Department handles the Mesker Music Fund, and two other anonymous members of the general public review grant proposals to suggest a recommendation to the bank on where a portion of the money should go.

Federal tax laws require private foundations annually distribute at least 5 percent of the monthly average balance of the fund for charitable and administrative purposes, which Koontz says is currently around $770,000.

“The need for funding of the arts is a bottomless bucket,” Koontz says. “It is very difficult to decide where to give the money. If people are given the choice to give to a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or a concert, it can be very difficult for the arts to get funding. This fund forces there to be a safety net.”

Last year, nine organizations shared $33,370 in Mesker Music Fund distributions. They include the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra Youth Concerts, Tales & Scales musical storytelling programs, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library music events, and the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp.

Koontz asks that grant proposals be submitted to him before April 1 in order to be eligible to receive a grant in the calendar year.

For more information on the Mesker Music Fund, contact Patrick Koontz at Fifth Third Bank at 812-456-4663.

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