With the deaths of Leslie Rudd and Koerner Rombauer, the Napa Valley lost two more of its great philanthropists.
People like Rudd, Rombauer, Mary Novak, Robert and Margrit Mondavi, Vera Trinchero Torres – the list goes on – were part of a generation who never felt comfortable amassing wealth without giving a sizable portion of it away. They gave because they could, because it strengthened the community they were a part of, and because they were kind.
The deaths of Rudd and Rombauer got us thinking about the inspiration they could provide to the next generation of philanthropists.
You already see wealthy entrepreneurs walking in their footsteps by donating to good causes, organizing fundraisers, establishing nonprofits, and drawing upon their contacts in the business community to make those efforts successful.
Rudd didn’t donate $1 million for the St. Helena High School performing arts classroom because it was going to convince more people to shop at Dean & DeLuca or the Oakville Grocery. Rombauer didn’t establish the Rombauer Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund and establish a $4 million endowment to UCSF because it was going to help him sell more Chardonnay.
Their gifts set a wonderful example for today’s young donors: You should give because it’s the right thing to do, not because it will enhance your investment portfolio.
You don’t need a seven-figure bank account to be inspired by a seven-figure donation. There’s a second tier of young philanthropists out there donating $24 at a time to Give Big for the public schools, lining up for tickets to the fire department lobster feed, writing checks to Rianda House, and attending the library’s Bookmark fundraiser.
This brand of philanthropy is the most exciting to us because it’s open to all ages and tax brackets. This philosophy teaches that you give what you can, whether it’s a lot (like Rudd and Rombauer), just a little or somewhere inbetween.
When that idea is instilled in people at a young age, it will stick with them for life. Chances are that the next Leslies and Koerners are attending the primary or elementary school right now, collecting their quarters and pennies to donate to Give Big.
In 15 years, maybe they’ll be forgoing their morning latte so they can contribute to an effort to save Scout Hall. Who knows where their generosity will lead them in 30 years, but we can’t wait to find out.
Of course, you can make a difference without donating a cent. You can volunteer at a nonprofit or, like the St. Helena High School Students for Change Club that organized the recent Students Rock the Congress, speak out in favor of a cause you believe in.
You can follow your passion, even if your pocketbook can’t keep up.
So the next time you pass the Rudd Performing Arts Classroom at the high school or read about the St. Helena FFA and agriculture programs that Rombauer took to another level, don’t just see them as monuments to the noblesse oblige of two wealthy men.
See them as a source of inspiration to future generations, as a model, as a challenge, and as an indelible reminder that everyone, rich or poor, can do something to make their community a better place. It’s time for all of us to step up.