Bucyrus legacy lives on through philanthropy

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Like Big Muskie, the world’s largest earth moving machine it created in 1969, Bucyrus International itself loomed large for many years in Milwaukee and worldwide.

It was a dynamic company designed for digging and making the earth move. But Bucyrus also built a reputation for digging in to meet the local needs of its community. From providing Christmas gifts to South Milwaukee children to supporting the United Performing Arts Fund, its strong philanthropic spirit permeated the Milwaukee area.

But shortly after the company was acquired by Caterpillar in 2011, the Bucyrus name was dropped. Thanks to former CEO Tim Sullivan and several other former employees, Bucyrus’ longstanding reputation as a committed, compassionate corporate citizen lives on.

“We wanted to continue the name in perpetuity,” said Sullivan, who spent 35 years at Bucyrus, including nearly 11 as its president, and heads up the Bucyrus Foundation.

Nearly a decade before the acquisition, leaders transferred $15.1 million in assets from the company’s private foundation to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to create a supporting organization. At that time, Sullivan said, the board wanted to avoid the possibility of having a purchasing company absorb the Bucyrus Foundation and stray away from what it historically supported. The supporting organization provided a great alternative, allowing Bucyrus to have its own advisory board to make decisions on grantmaking and other matters while the Greater Milwaukee Foundation handled administrative details.

“What we have set up now is absolutely perfect – it provides great investment returns at a low cost,” Sullivan said. “That is testament to the quality of people who work at the Foundation and the people who have nurtured us along the way. We’re right where we want to be right now.”

Bucyrus started the foundation in the 1970s and supported community and social services, medical research and health care, education and arts and culture. It offered an employee matching program, where employees and retirees could make small donations to agencies of their choice and the foundation would match them dollar for dollar, and provided college scholarships to employees’ children.

Its grantmaking has evolved just as its structure has from a private foundation to a supporting organization to a donor advised fund. In lieu of smaller, more frequent grants to a broad range of safety net agencies, the Bucyrus Foundation now is making more sizable investments over a longer period of time to more focused areas. The goal, Sullivan said, is “to be more proactive so as to eliminate the need for safety nets.” In 2013, for example, the foundation announced a $1 million investment over 10 years to United Way of Greater Milwaukee to support adult education and employment assistance programs.

It also has returned to its roots by supporting workforce development, particularly manufacturing. In late 2013 it made a $250,000 grant to Bradley Tech High School to help expand its welding lab program to meet increasing demand from students. The investment will enable the high school, one of four in Milwaukee to offer welding, to add four welding stations and support the overall operations of the welding department in 2015 and 2016.

“We hope that if we are spending the money wisely, that manufacturing will grow in importance here in this area,” Sullivan said. “We want to make sure that we are part of the process.”

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