The name deJong, for Evansville residents, brings back memories of the former department store founded by the deJong family in 1896, with its last location closing in Evansville in 2003. However, Merritt and Martha Atkinson deJong have greatly influenced the city outside of the family’s well-known store.
The couple, both lifelong residents of Evansville, established a charitable trust to support the arts and education in the Tri-State, which officially began in 1993 as the Martha and Merritt deJong Foundation following the deaths of both Merritt and Martha.
“The deJong Foundation truly is a family organization, and family members always have served on the board,” says Joan deJong, president of the foundation and daughter-in-law to Merritt and Martha. “Since 1993, the foundation has awarded more than $500,000 to sponsor more than 50 guest artists in the fine and performing arts.”
The foundation’s biggest partnerships through the years have been with the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science to inaugurate the annual Artist-in-Residence program and the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra to annually sponsor the guest artist for the opening night concert since 1994.
This year, the work accomplished through the Martha and Merritt deJong Foundation was recognized by the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana during its annual awards, receiving the Mayor’s Art Award.
“Being a part of the deJong Foundation has been a way to honor their memory and honor that legacy,” says Yvette LaPlante, the foundation’s secretary and great niece of the couple. “It’s nice to remember that Martha and Merritt had the forethought to put this together to make sure the arts could continue to survive in Evansville.”