Lean Locally: The Giving Gordons
For McLean County residents, it might be easy to take for granted the trees surrounding Evergreen Lake or the convenience of curbside recycling--things that wouldn’t exist without the philanthropic work of George and Myra Gordon.
Mr. and Mrs. Gordon have been involved with numerous organizations and philanthropic efforts in the Bloomington-Normal area for nearly 45 years. Their work earned them the distinction of 2017 Philanthropists of the Year by the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation.
Their work began when George moved to Normal in 1970 after accepting an offer to teach political science at Illinois State University.
“When we got married George was recycling his newspapers with a group that actually started out on campus,” Myra said. “It was a student group and then it expanded to Operation Recycle.”
At the time, Myra was working for the local Girl Scout Council, training leaders and organizing troops. When Operation Recycle needed more volunteers, she decided to lend a hand.
“Like many things in my life, when I dip my toes in they start to go deeper and deeper and deeper,” Myra chuckled. “It’s not long before it’s the whole foot.”
Although she insists she did not create Operation Recycle, Myra did play a large role in the current state of the program. Today Operation Recycle is known as the Ecology Action Center, a prevalent community organization.
George Gordon served as a political science professor at ISU for 38 years and sat on the McLean County Board for 20 years. As part of his Campaign Politics course, he paired students with local political candidates, giving them a hands-on look at the process of running for office.
He was also a member of the University Forum and helped organize speakers to visit the campus and speak on current issues. During this time, he was able to meet some prominent political figures such as Ralph Nader and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Myra Gordon worked at State Farm for eleven years while serving as the Interim Executive Director for the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation. She originally agreed to hold the interim position until the foundation found a replacement, but soon fell in love with the role. She applied for the position and ended up serving as the Executive Director for six years.
“After six weeks, I felt like this job [IPCF Director] was made for me,” Myra said. “I loved it. It was the best job I ever had. I’ve always had a big interest in the non-profit world and what is going on in the area.”
As IPCF Director, Myra created the Women to Women Giving Circle and the Youth Engaged in Philanthropy program. When the foundation grants began, they offered $12,000 a year. Currently, the program offers more than $200,000 in grant funds each year.
Additionally, Myra served as a member of the Bloomington-Normal-Asahikawa Sister Cities Committee, a role she took on when her daughter expressed a desire to visit Japan during high school.
“I felt that if she was going to be a part of this program I should do my part to help out,” Gordon said. “I was the secretary of that for a number of years.”
Myra has also served two terms as the co-president of the McLean County League of Women Voters. During this time, she pushed for legislation that would allow city buses to run after 6:00 p.m. and provide accommodations for people with disabilities.
“A good current example [of the efforts of the League of Women Voters] is behavioral health initiatives. McLean County is a leading county and probably the pioneer county in Illinois [regarding behavioral health],” George Gordon said. “I don’t think the county would have taken the first step if it hadn’t been for a study done by the McLean County League of Women Voters.”
As a duo, the Gordons have created two endowment funds: the George J. Gordon Scholarship in U.S. Public Affairs at ISU and the Gordon Performing Arts Fund at the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation. These endowment funds aim to provide annual gifts to Heartland Theatre and the Illinois Symphony Orchestra.
Despite all of their hard work over the years, the Gorgons continue to be concerned for the state of the non-profit world, especially given the resent tax bill affecting deductions for charitable organizations.
“I’m concerned about the non-profit world right now with the United Way struggling,” Myra said. “The state seems determined to cut support and I am concerned about people who are really seriously going to be harmed and won’t get the services they depend on.”
Although both Gordons are retired, they have remained active in McLean County. “I’m busier now than when I was working,” George said.
George Gordon continues to remain involved with the Cedar Ridge Elementary School Promise Council, the Unit 5 Diversity Advisory Committee, the board of Compassion and Choices and the Moses Montefiore Temple. He has served as the choir director at Moses Montefiore Temple for more than 30 years.
Myra is currently working on the Immigration Project, the Multicultural Leadership Program and Artolution. The Artolution program is a community-based public arts organization that seeks to ignite positive social change through creative, participatory and collaborative art-making. Two murals in Bloomington were completed with the aid of Artolutoin.
“He [Artolution founder Joel Bergner] wants to use the healing power of art in addition to making something beautiful," Myra said. "His murals are fantastic and he has done them all over the world now. He did work in northern Jordan in a Syrian refugee camp.”
Whether they are mentoring local candidates, serving as board members for local organizations or offering financial support, George and Myra Gordon continue to share their philanthropic message and charitable spirit throughout the community.