For five decades – while Virginia Kettering was helping to build the area’s most treasured landmarks, showpieces and programs – she was quietly building something else.
“She helped create community pride that says, ‘Don’t downplay Dayton. It’s a great place to be,’” said Al Leland, financial advisor to Mrs. Kettering, who died in 2003 at 95.
The contributions of Virginia Kettering – the generous and gracious, warm and vivacious daughter-in-law of famed Dayton inventor and Delco founder Charles F. Kettering and widow of his only son, Eugene – are well known.
“The breadth of community activities and projects that Mrs. Kettering supported has been spectacular,” said Mike Parks, president of The Dayton Foundation. “There isn't a sector of our community that hasn't been touched by her generous hand.”
Mrs. Kettering knew how to make things happen. She was the force behind Dayton's revitalization in the 1970s, beginning with $15 million for Winters Bank Tower, now Kettering Tower, according to Fred Bartenstein, a former president of The Dayton Foundation. Legend has it that she thought Dayton needed a skyscraper, so she built one.
“How did Dayton’s downtown survive and flourish? The truth is that Virginia Kettering had more to do with it than anyone else,” he said.
The social pressures to support the arts by attending performances, giving money and serving on boards also can be traced to Mrs. Kettering.
“It was hard for the men and women of Dayton to ignore the performing arts when Jinny Kettering was there, having a good time. She was setting the pace,” Bartenstein said.
Mrs. Kettering did more than support good causes; she had a hand in crafting their design. She would ask, “‘Is it duplicative? If not, is it necessary? And if it is necessary, what makes this idea better than someone else’s?’” Leland said.
Total gifts from Mrs. Kettering throughout her lifetime have been estimated very conservatively at $150 million. She routinely used her Charitable Checking Account, established through The Dayton Foundation, to give to community causes.
“Mrs. Kettering cared deeply about the Miami Valley and gave generously of her time, talent and treasure, so that our community could remain a great place to live, work and raise a family,” Parks said.
In 1989 she created the Virginia W. Kettering Dayton Holiday Festival Fund through The Dayton Foundation.
Her fund has awarded nearly $450,000 since 1990 to promote cultural activities in connection with holiday celebrations downtown. “She knew the Foundation would provide the ultimate oversight if the makeup of the festival had to change to keep pace with the times,” Leland said.
In 2000 Mrs. Kettering gave $5 million to establish the Virginia W. Kettering Fund for projects that furthered the public good. Since 2001 this Dayton Foundation fund has awarded nearly $1.7 million.
She inspired many. On numerous occasions, even in later years, Mrs. Kettering agreed to attend certain events or make calls, if she had been told that her presence or association with a particular cause was the leverage needed to inspire another potential philanthropist in town.
“There are many other people who’ve had the opportunity to follow in her footsteps, many other people who were influenced by her behavior,” Leland said.
In some way Mrs. Kettering has touched each of us and perhaps even left us with her philanthropic spirit. Will members of this community take the seeds that have been handed to us by Mrs. Kettering and others who are now departed, plant them and continue to improve the community's lot and sustain the community’s pride?
“Taxes alone cannot support all the services we have in our community,” Leland said. “It takes personal dollars, infused on a regular basis, if we are going to have a nice place to live.”
“Remember your community,” said Darrell Murphy, former president of The Dayton Foundation. “That is what Mrs. Kettering has taught us.”