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Thursday, January 18, 2018

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The Wortham Foundation Gives Generously to the Arts and City Improvement Projects in Houston, TX
Denise Wissing

August, 2004

What do the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Fountain on UTMB's campus, the Gus Wortham Park Golf Course, and the Wortham Theater Center have in common? Not only are they all located in Houston, TX, but they also bear the names of Gus and Lyndall Wortham- civic leaders, benefactors, and entrepreneurs whose impact on Houston and on Texas is not only echoed throughout the city as names of places and buildings, but also in the continued charitable gifts given each year from their foundation: The Wortham Foundation.

The Facts behind the Founders

Lyndall Finley Wortham was born on July 22, 1892 in the small town of Sherman, TX located near the Oklahoma/Texas border. She attended public schools in Sherman and graduated from Kidd Key College at the age of 17. Despite her small-town upbringing, Finley was determined to make a life for herself and expand her horizons beyond Sherman, TX. She continued her education at the University of Texas in 1912, earning a Bachelors of Arts degree and a teaching certificate. She took a teaching job in Galveston and eventually took another position up North in New York City- escaping her rural roots.

However, her dreams for adventure did not stop there. In 1924, she embarked on a 4 ½-month cruise around the world, which she financed by working as a hostess on the ship. The postcards she sent to her parents from places like Panama, Hawaii, Japan, China, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Greece, Palestine, and other points in Europe were published serially in the Dallas Morning News and were later compiled into a travelogue titled Around the World on a Frayed Shoestring . Upon her return, Lyndall lived briefly in New York City, and then decided to move back to Texas in 1926. Later that year, she married Gus Wortham- a fellow student she had known during her days at the University of Texas. The couple moved to Houston where, 6 months later, he established his own company- the American General Insurance Company- which prospered and quickly became a multi-billion-dollar financial giant.

While her husband was securing his role as a “cattle baron and insurance tycoon,” (as he was eulogized by the New York Times ), Lyndall devoted her time to serving the Houston community. She volunteered in many capacities including at local hospitals, served as secretary to the Harris County Cancer Society, was vice president of the Houston Speech and Hearing Center, and served on the board of directors for Girlstown U.S.A. from 1956 to 1973 and as president of the board from 1970 to 1973. Additionally, she was active in the YWCA, the Houston Garden Club, the Galveston Historical Foundation, Colonial Dames of America, Harris County Heritage Society, the Ex-Students Association of the University of Texas, and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

Lyndall was also passionate for the arts, especially theater. She served as vice president of the board of the Houston Grand Opera, financially supported the Theater Under the Stars program, and served on the advising committee for the Ballet Foundation of Houston. She was also an active member on the Miller Memorial Theater's board of directors and in the Society for Performing Arts.

For her philanthropic efforts and compassionate heart, Lyndall was named the outstanding woman civic leader of Houston in 1964 and awarded the Theta Sigma Phi Matrix award.

Gus Wortham also had his hand in various significant civic projects, with the Houston Symphony Orchestra as a major beneficiary. He served two terms as president of the Chamber of Commerce, convinced government planners to allocate $250 million worth of defense contracts to Houston during World War II, orchestrated the construction of the football stadium for Rice University, and helped establish the Astrodome in the 1960s.

However, among Lyndall and her husband's most lasting contributions to Houston was the creation of the Wortham Foundation in 1958. Since then, the Foundation has financed projects in the beautification of Houston and in the arts including a fountain on Allen Parkway, landscaping plans for a park in the Buffalo/Bayou area, the building of the IMAX theater at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the financing of projects at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and the United Fund, and the creation of the Gus S. Wortham Theater Center- a $72 million opera and ballet facility.

Mrs. Lyndall Wortham died on July 12, 1980 and is buried in the Magnolia Cemetery in Houston, TX. In honor of his wife and her contributions to the arts, Gus dedicated the Lyndall Finely Wortham Theatre on the University of Houston campus to her. Toward the end of his career, Wortham turned American General over to a new generation of management and stressed the importance of upholding his traditions- both philanthropically, civically, and in business. It is said that in his last remarks before his death, he promised, “ I'll be watching you.”

Philanthropic Focus

During their lifetimes, Mr. and Mrs. Wortham were dedicated to improving the lives of people living in Houston by serving in many facets on civic, cultural, and philanthropic boards. Lyndall's love for the arts, especially theater, and Gus's involvement in city beautification and expansion have lived on through the philanthropic givings of the Wortham Foundation.

Therefore, upholding the standards, traditions, and values of the Wortham's, the Foundation focuses on supporting not-for-profit cultural organizations, with an emphasis on the performing arts and museums, and in community improvement through civic beautification projects that benefit the people of Houston and Harris County, TX.

Wortham's interest in genetic research is also maintained through funding allocated for disease research, contact or sponsored scientific research, and other school-related projects and activities.

Funding Guidelines

The Wortham Foundation primarily awards grants to not-for-profit organizations located in Houston, Harris County, TX. If you are interested in applying for a grant, you must first call to request a formal application form. If accepted, a full proposal can be submitted no later than the first weeks of January, April, July, and October. The Board meets in February, May, August, and November to review applications and proposals and each organization will be notified of their decision within 3 months.

Each proposal should include a detailed project description, a project budget, the amount requested and the latest date funding is needed by, the list of trustees, directors, and principal staff, the audited financials from the last completed fiscal year, and copies of the IRS tax-exempt determination documents. Grants are not made to individuals. If an applicant is unsure if they qualify for funding from the Wortham Foundation and meet their guidelines, they should contact the foundation with any questions or concerns.

The Wortham Foundation's Impact on Houston

Since its establishment in 1958, the Wortham Foundation's assets have skyrocketed to over $ 50 million. They consistently contribute $ 9-12 million each year to organizations that exemplify the values and interests of the Worthams through their programs, projects, and activities. In 2002 the foundation awarded $9,949,814 in grants to 73 recipients.

Multi-Cultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts: In collaboration with the Brown Foundation ($250,000), the Meadows Foundation ($75,000), the Houston Endowment ($250,000) and others, the Wortham Foundation ($150,000) made it possible to purchase a permanent home for MECA's program, which is community based and geared to help at-risk and inner-city children through education in the arts. The Dow School Renovation project strengthened partnerships that were established in the Houston community and guaranteed sustainability for the future.

The Wortham Theater Center: Since its opening in 1987, the Wortham Theater Center has entertained audiences totaling more than 5 million people. It has served as the backdrop for social galas, civic meetings, corporate and group events, and weddings, making it not only a performing arts venue housing the Houston Ballet and the Houston Grand Opera, but also a community center where people can gather and celebrate.

The Wortham Foundation contributed $20 million to the capital campaign for the theater, with additional donations from the Cullen Foundation ($7.5 million) and the Brown Foundation ($6 million). With the Wortham's as their namesake, the Center exemplifies Lyndall's passion for the arts and Gus's drive to create a unified community.

I Have a Dream Houston: With the motto, “ Educate, Elevate, and Empower One Child at a Time,” I Have a Dream Houston is the only long-term mentoring and dropout prevention program of its kind in Houston, TX. Currently serving over 200 students in elementary, middle, and high school, they provide tutoring, mentoring, and financial assistance for children to help them achieve higher educational learning by attending college or vocational school. They are dedicated to helping youth overcome the negative influences they encounter and the difficult environments in which they live which may deter them from realizing their educational dreams. The Wortham Foundation granted “ I Have a Dream Houston,” $5,000 to help offset a portion of their general operating expenses in hopes that, through their services, they are working to create a better, brighter future for generations of Houston's youth.

Buffalo/Bayou ArtPark : This not-for-profit organization is run by artists who are dedicated to promoting the arts and the beautification of Houston and Harris County, TX. Local, national, and international artists produce, maintain, and temporarily display public art pieces in open spaces of throughout Harris County, TX and Houston. The Buffalo Bayou ArtPark features a constantly rotating collection of public art at the Sabine Street Bridge between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive with anywhere between 20 and 25 works of art are displayed at any one time. The park itself slopes down the banks of Buffalo Bayou and offers a variety of settings for sculpture as well as other forms of art. It is a unique program that the Wortham Foundation continues to fund each year.

The Worthams: Their Eyes are Watching Houston

Mr. and Mrs. Wortham were great philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders within the Houston community. They threw themselves headlong into improving the city of Houston and Harris County by promoting cultural activities, city improvement projects, and scientific research- keeping Houston at the forefront of science for decades. The Wortham Foundation continues to cultivate the Wortham's values and traditions by supporting organizations that share similar goals for the future of Houston, TX.

You may contact the Wortham Foundation in Houston at 713-526-8849.


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