Bontrager Family Giving Back to Community

Even before Jayco Inc. was founded in 1968, Lloyd and Bertha Bontrager committed themselves to tithing and giving to charitable causes.

Following the sale of Jayco to Thor Industries, the family’s new Bontrager Family Foundation will perpetuate giving for generations to come as part of the Community Foundation of Elkhart County.

“We wanted to continue our ability to support charities as we have in the past,” said Wilbur Bontrager, chairman of the board and a member of the second of three generations involved in the business and its giving.

Pete McCown, president of the Community Foundation, said the Bontrager family has been involved with the Community Foundation for many years, but the establishment of the family foundation creates a new chapter in this relationship. “We are honored the Bontrager family saw the Community Foundation as an instrument to accomplish their charitable goals,” he said. “I have the highest regard for them as a family and their heart for generosity.”

The creation of the Bontrager Family Foundation allows our family to continue its tradition of giving, Wilbur said. “Family members will determine where to give gifts from the foundation. It’s really a continuation of what we’ve done in the past,” he said.

When Lloyd and Bertha Bontrager founded the company to build fold-down campers, it had just a few employees and sold 132 units in its first year. Last year Jayco sold more than 50,000 recreational vehicles.

Throughout Jayco’s decades of production and growth in Middlebury, the family always remained committed to tithe (a biblical practice of giving 10 percent) from its profits. The family often supported Mennonite schools, colleges, universities, church organizations as well as national, international and local charities.

The new family foundation is one of 80 personal foundation funds that are part of the Community Foundation. The Community Foundation helps with oversight and logistics, but a family, individual or group of people act as advisors to recommend how to give from the fund or its earnings.

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2016, the Community Foundation had a total of $16 million in donor advised funds and distributed $3.4 million in grants from them.

Family foundations such as the one the Bontragers created are becoming more common with community foundations, said McCown. There’s a national trend toward families or groups capitalizing on how community foundations help manage the resources and distribute grants, he said.

The Bontragers chose to have the Community Foundation of Elkhart County help oversee its foundation because of the logistical support. “The Community Foundation is focused primarily on our Elkhart County community and has insights that can assist us in our gifting decisions,” he said. “I think it’ll be very helpful as future generations get increasingly involved in the giving and discernment process.”

Bontrager said he believes his late father, who died in a plane crash in 1985, would be pleased with this step for the family. He gave and modeled that for his children. “The community has been good to the family and it really makes sense to continue to support our community. It’s where we live,” he said.

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