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Fred K. Conn

 

December 16, 1881-February 26, 1970

Fred K. ConnThe Conn Memorial Foundation was directed by Fred K. Conn from the day it was established in 1954 until his death in 1970. During those years, he guided the philanthropic organization from the source he knew best - his own heart.

 

Fred K. Conn's kindergarten class from Ohio. Fred is the third from the left in the front row with his school satchel.

After his death, Mr. Conn's long-time accountant and business manager David Frye became president. David Frye served with board members selected by Mr. Conn for many years.  Today, the Foundation board is made up of local community leaders and maintains a commitment to the vision of Fred K. Conn and his legacy of caring for the children of Tampa.

Building levees against the rising waters

In the spring of 1927, more than 4,000 of Tampa's faithful surged to hear the thunderous preaching of flamboyant revivalist Billy Sunday.  Throughout his fist-swinging salvos, a rain storm poured steadily outside, making mud flats of the dirt streets.

Rain and unusual weather would plague the region and the nation for weeks to come - icy winds curtailed Mardi Gras entertainment in New Orleans, snow blanketed fruit trees in Georgia and South Carolina, a cold snap hit Texas, and tornadoes and earthquakes shook the Mississippi Valley.

And the water began to rise.

Southward from Cairo, Illinois, the Mississippi overflowed its banks, filling tributaries, covering its delta and threatening the fragile earthen embankments that kept the great river from inundating low-lying farmland, forests and family homes. On April 21, two major levees broke, and for the next two months the river claimed a region roughly the size of North Carolina.  The infamous waters claimed 313 lives, drove more than 700,000 people from their homes and destroyed $300 million in property.

In Yazoo City, Mississippi, a small town on the edge of the delta, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover tapped a successful land and lumber mill owner - Fred Conn - as the local Vice Chairman of Disaster Operations.

Secretary Hoover could not have chosen a more resourceful leader.  Outgoing, confident, energetic and optimistic, Mr. Conn skillfully marshaled resources and kept the community's focus on the future.

Mr. Conn's flood relief efforts, amid his close association with the American Red Cross during that time, are often cited as the spark that ignited a lifetime of extraordinary community involvement and enduring philanthropy.  Indeed, it was a flame he brought with him to Tampa the following year, a flame whose well-tended embers continue to light the future for children and their families, through financial assistance and guiding leadership of the Conn Memorial Foundation.

Not unlike the transformation each of us has felt as a result of our experiences of Hurricane Katrina, Fred K. Conn was also transformed by the flood of 1927.