Community Foundation of St. Joseph County

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Spike and Anne Abernethy

Family Philanthropy

Three generations of the Abernethy family

Sadly, since this story was written, Anne Abernethy died after a long battle with breast cancer. Because Spike and Anne's family philanthropy was very much a team effort, we have kept this story in the present tense to reflect the spirit in which the Abernethy Family Legacy Fund was created.

Spike and Anne Abernethy have deep roots in our community: Spike’s family came to South Bend in 1831, when Andrew Jackson was President; Anne’s family—the O’Briens, founders of South Bend Lathe Works—has been here since 1906. Lifelong South Bend residents themselves, the Abernethys live in a historic Italianate farmhouse on South Bend’s south side that has been home to their family for seven generations.

They also have a long-term commitment to philanthropy, a family activity that includes Spike, Anne, and their three daughters Sarah, Megan, and Molly.

“We started one Christmas years ago, when Molly was about nine,” Spike says. “In those years, we were taking care of foster babies—caring for them from the time they left the hospital until they were ready to go to their adoptive families. Of course, the girls loved that. They always wanted to hold the babies.”

“That Christmas, the Women’s Care Center had asked if we would consider donating a crib for the babies that they took care of,” Molly remembers. “My parents asked me and my sisters if we were willing to give up our Christmas stockings that year, and instead donate three cribs to the Women’s Care Center. Of course we said yes.”

“The girls felt good about it,” Spike says, “and Anne and I did, too.”

The Abernethys wanted to continue and increase their philanthropy over time, and Spike’s friend Chuck Roemer, a local attorney, suggested that they consider the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County as a vehicle for that work. Ultimately, the Abernethys decided to set up a donor-advised fund with the Foundation: the Abernethy Family Legacy Fund. This type of fund allows donors to be actively involved in philanthropy, making annual recommendations about how disbursements from their funds should be made. 

Each year around the holidays, the Abernethys meet to decide what charities or causes will receive disbursements from their fund. Each family member ranks requests from potential recipients; then, they average those rankings to make a family decision. 

“The charities that hit the hardest with me and my sisters are usually the ones that serve women and children in need,” Molly says, citing the after-school program at the Center for the Homeless as an example.

Since the fund is permanent, the family’s philanthropy will go on long into the future. 

“Anne and I really wanted to set something up with the girls that will continue after we’re gone,” says Spike. “Something that will eventually include Molly’s son Riley and our other grandchildren—and their children, too. That’s the ‘legacy’ aspect of the fund.”

A financial planner with Northwestern Mutual, Spike says that he often suggests that his clients consider the Community Foundation as a charitable partner.

“We’ve been very pleased with the strong investment performance that the Foundation provides, which has allowed us to make more charitable gifts. The organization has been run extremely well since it was founded 20 years ago.”

As part of their own giving plan, Spike and Anne intend to gift assets from an IRA to the Community Foundation after their deaths. Because of IRS regulations, it’s a much more tax-favorable option than leaving an IRA to a family member, he explains.

The Abernethys’ philanthropic commitment has a clear parallel to their role as caretakers of the historic property they call “home.”

“We have an easement that insures that whoever owns this property needs to keep it the way that it is, preserving its historic character,” Spike says. “Our fund with the Foundation is very similar. This community has been very good to us, and we want to be good stewards of those resources.”