The Pittsburgh Foundation

Naming rightsWith seven separate funds (and counting), Kevin and Tracy Walsh have partnered with The Pittsburgh Foundation to memorialize their friends and family members by donating to a broad spectrum of community issues.

Donors Tracy and Kevin Walsh at In-Stride with Therapeutic Riding, Inc., which provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons to children and adults with disabilities.

Mackenzie Carpenter

By Mackenzie Carpenter

Mackenzie Carpenter is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh and a former journalist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A NEW POTTERY WHEEL SPECIALLY DESIGNED for people with disabilities. Two hospital beds and money to pay the dairy bill at a home for the elderly poor. Therapeutic horseback riding lessons for autistic children.

Kevin and Tracy Walsh, of Moon Township, have spent the past five years making grants like these to nonprofits whose programs, people and needs have touched them deeply and personally, from the students at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild to the autistic children at In-Stride with Therapeutic Riding, Inc. to the nuns at Little Sisters of the Poor.

While the Walshes are just two of nearly 1,000 living donors at The Pittsburgh Foundation, it’s the way they give that sets them apart. The Walshes have established seven different funds, averaging about $125,000 each, not just bearing their own names, but also those of beloved family members and friends.

“We asked ourselves, what is the best, most effective way for us to create a legacy that clearly honors the people who made such positive impacts on our own lives?” says Kevin. Several of the established funds provide scholarships, which the couple believes make the names of those they loved all the more memorable.

Their largesse is broad in scope but carefully targeted.

“We’re the kind of people who pretty much know what our goals are,” says Tracy. When the couple first began working with the Foundation in 2011 at the suggestion of their estate planning lawyer, they had clear ideas about what they wanted to do, “but we weren’t quite sure how to go about getting it all accomplished,” she adds.

The Foundation’s donor services staff arranged site visits to nonprofits so that the Walshes could better understand the needs of those they wanted to help most—students, the elderly, those with medical issues or disabilities—and see the actual impact of their gifts.

Married 27 years, the couple doesn’t exactly match the popular image of jet-setting philanthropists traveling the world to bestow new wings on museums or fancy buildings on universities. Kevin, now retired, has a degree in computer science. Tracy, also retired, was a dental assistant for 23 years. 

Theirs is a classic Pittsburgh story: Kevin’s grandfather worked in the steel mills, as did his father, who rose through the ranks at Allegheny Ludlum Steel and became highly successful. Kevin’s parents stayed in Natrona Heights all their lives, making it a priority to give back to their community and its schools. “My mother worked three jobs to put herself through the University of Pittsburgh, so she knew the importance of a college education, as did my father,” he says.

Tracy was raised in the South Hills. In memory of her mother, who died after a long battle with breast cancer at age 43, Tracy created the Barbara A. Walter Fund, which provides college scholarships for high school students in Allegheny County. “She always put others before herself. A scholarship just felt right to me, because both she and my father, Carl Walter, always cared about getting an education, although it was never anything she or her family were able to do.”

Of their seven funds, the one that excites them the most benefits autistic individuals through organizations such as In-Stride with Therapeutic Riding, Inc., a nonprofit based in Eighty Four, Washington County. Horseback riding has been found to help autistic children and adults focus and relax. When the couple saw a child climb on a horse for the first time, “We just melted,” recalls Tracy.

The experience led them to establish The Herbert A. and Charles E. Kester Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships for the autistic riding program at In-Stride, where the couple also volunteers, as well as music therapy sessions and summer camps elsewhere. The fund is named after Charles Kester, a dear friend “who had a huge impact on our lives,” says Kevin. And because Kester’s own father, Herbert, meant so much to him, the couple decided to name the fund after them both.

The younger Kester didn’t have much money himself, but he was a philanthropist of the first order, says Tracy. “He would pay the grocery bill for senior citizens standing in line in front of him,” or pay the turnpike toll for the car behind him, just for the sheer pleasure it afforded him.

In the end, it isn’t about how much money you have, the couple believes. It’s about finding the right way to give, which they say the Foundation has helped them do. And as their late friend Chuck Kester showed them, anyone can be a philanthropist.

“St. Francis of Assisi said that it’s in giving that you receive, but it’s also about honoring the people who gave so much love to us and then expanding that love to others,” says Tracy. “And no matter the size of a donation, working with the Foundation has showed us that nothing is impossible.”

Original story appeared in the 2015-16 Report to the Community