Andrew Carnegie would have been well acquainted with the “unprecedented” circumstances facing the Carnegie Hero Fund – and the entire world – in 2020.
The first known cases of the 1918 flu pandemic were recorded in Kansas in March 1918. The third worldwide wave of the epidemic was just receding when Carnegie died in August 1919.
The 1919 pandemic killed more people than the one we face today, but Hero Fund Chair Mark Laskow said that he thinks our founder would be pleased to see that his Hero Fund has continued its work with minimal interruption while protecting its hard-working staff.
“The biggest step in accomplishing all of this was the almost instant ‘virtualization’ of the Hero Fund’s operations,” Laskow said. “Until the pandemic started, we had felt little need to adopt systems for remote work, but Hero Fund staff recognized the potential impact of the pandemic early on and picked up on the new system quickly and the work went on.”
The Hero Fund doesn’t have an official motto, but maybe it should be “… and the work went on,” as it has for 117 years, Laskow said.
And through it all the Carnegie Heroes go on as well, risking their lives for others amid pandemics, world wars, depressions, and everything else. They are the people who are there when we need them.
In her annual report to the Commission, Executive Committee Chair Sybil Veeder agreed, saying that despite the need to work and meet remotely after March 2020, the work of the Fund continued with little disruption.
Three of the four quarterly Executive Committee meetings last year were conducted remotely, and additional protocols were added for enhanced case screening meant to counteract the disadvantage of having to forego in-person deliberations.
Of specific note was Carnegie’s instruction in the Commission’s 1904 Deed of Trust that there (is) “no action more heroic than that of doctors and nurses volunteering their services in the case of epidemics.”
The Commission took notice, and at its 2020 annual meeting in June passed a resolution to explore ways to recognize and honor those who have placed themselves in harm’s way to care for those afflicted by the novel Coronavirus COVID-19 through a monetary donation or permanent monument “to the many selfless individuals who have exhibited heroic action during this global pandemic be considered, as appropriate recognition, lasting memorial, and clear pronouncement as to the extreme heroism displayed in behalf of mankind.”
Once again, our heroes in 2020 were diverse in all respects: There were 67 awards for 58 total acts, most frequently, the 14 rescues from a burning vehicle, followed by 13 each of drowning and burning building rescues. The least frequent rescues were categorized as an elevation rescue, an ice rescue, and rescues from the path of a moving vehicle and a submerged vehicle. The oldest Carnegie Hero awarded in 2020 was 86-year-old Fusako M. Petrus, and the youngest was 17-year-old Marcos Gil. They came from 27 US states and 3 Canadian provinces. Fifteen heroes gave their lives, almost doubling 2019’s total of eight.
Each of 2020’s awardees received a one-time grant of $5,500. Awardees (pre retirement) are also eligible for scholarship assistance, defined as aid applied toward the academic costs of tuition, books, and fees.
In 2020, $215,856 was spent by year’s end on scholarship assistance. The students who receive the scholarship assistance are diverse and impressive, each a hero themselves or a dependent of a disabled or posthumous awardee.
Regarding the beneficiaries, who are primarily the widows of posthumous awardees, $266,490 was paid in 2020 in monthly installments that averaged $407, marking increases in all categories; the number of beneficiaries increased by two from 2019 to 51 at the end of the year.
Press coverage of heroic acts and awarding was robust, and the website and social media accounts saw continued increases across the board. Staff rolled out a newly redesigned website in March. In addition to a fresh and inviting new look, the site was upgraded to include an abundance of resources for heroes, their families, and general public that has dramatically increased communication with stakeholders.
Personal medal presentations to awardees suffered during the pandemic, given restrictions and the primary concerns for the safety of all involved. We look forward to getting back on track in 2021.
The Roll of Honor, Volume I, documenting all Carnegie Medals awarded from 1905 2017, was completed and printed, fulfilling Carnegie’s instructions in the deed of trust that a “finely executed roll” be published and displayed. Calligrapher John Stevens continues to provide annual hand-drawn entries for the stunning Volume II.
During 2020, the annual grant was disbursed to the Italian Fund in support of operations. The worldwide pandemic hampered hero fund operations across the globe, but they have all forged ahead.
No membership changes occurred at board level in 2020, though there was an expansion of the Governance Committee; in terms of membership and scope.
At the staff level, part-time Administrative Assistant Janet Thomas joined the staff in January. Also joining the staff as a contractor for the year was Financial Manager Autumn Gindlesperger.
“Despite the pandemic, it was a seamlessly productive and memorable year for the Hero Fund,” Veeder said.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s investment portfolio enjoyed a gain in market value of 13% over the previous year.
The portfolio is managed by The Investment Fund for Foundations through its TIFF Centerstone Fund as of October 2020 and the less-liquid TIFF Keystone Fund.
Hero Fund spending in 2020 totaled $2.06 million, which was below both the year’s budget of $2.185 million and the self-imposed 5.5% spending cap of $2.513 million. The spending cap was adjusted by the Committee to 5%, effective for 2021.
“Despite the turmoil of the last year, the Commission moves forward on solid financial footing,” said Dan Sandman, treasurer of the Hero Fund. “Once again this year, I wish to thank the Finance Committee for their stewardship and dedication.”
And the work goes on for 2021: The Hero Fund announced its first quarter of awardees in March and continues its work of finding the heroes of our generation.