Quiet philanthropy makes difference for Midlands groups
Leonard Price donated $7,500 to the K-9 unit at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department so it could buy a new dog after a dog was shot while chasing a suspect, the first S.C. K-9 dog to die in the line of duty.
Leonard Price’s dog King, lower left, became the first police dog for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in 1965.
Almost every afternoon at 4 o'clock, Leonard Price settles into his favorite chair at the back of his house, facing a wall of windows, to watch the birds flock to half a dozen feeders in his backyard.
"I don't do it for attention," he said, reflecting on the bird community he's helped create by keeping the feeders full. "I know myself what I've done, and that means a lot to me."
But he isn't just talking about feeding the birds. Price, a former CEO of Budweiser distribution from Columbia to Asheville, N.C., is one of the most prolific philanthropists in the Midlands, a group Mike Gray, vice president of resource development at United Way of the Midlands, says can make the biggest impact because of their effect on other donors.
"Large donations by big donors can have the biggest impact when used to challenge other donors," Gray said. "It's a great way to give people a more tangible goal to work toward."
Now 91, Price has contributed to dozens of organizations, including Columbia College, Gilbert High School, North Central High School and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Price was also the first chairman of Midlands Crime Stoppers, hosted a fundraiser on his plantation for Meals on Wheels and hosts the Boy Scouts camporee on his 5,000 acres in Kershaw County.
His contributions also extend to the local police force. Almost 50 years ago he donated the first dog for the Richland County Sheriff's Department's K-9 Unit, and recently helped the unit again when one of its dogs was killed.
But Price says he never just gives money away. He expects organizations to meet him halfway. For instance after Price agreed to donate new cleats to North Central's football team, the players agreed to send their old cleats to Africa.
"If there is a situation that the districts are unable to help with, and if we show we are willing to help with the fundraising, he's always willing to help," said Louis Clyburn, North Central's athletics director.
Price said he likes to challenge people because a challenge is a good way to create motivation, even if it is a simple goal.
"I told the North Central High School football team that if they won their game I would give them a barbecue. And they won their next game," he said, laughing.
Matthew Nelson, vice president of the Council on Foundations, said that while these types of challenges aren't typical, organizations appreciate them just as much as a gift.
"It often encourages smaller donors to give more because they feel as though their gift has been doubled because of the match," he said.
In December, Fargo, a dog on Richland County's K-9 Unit, was shot and killed while pursuing a suspect, the first South Carolina police dog in to die in the line of duty. When Price heard the news, he donated $7,500 for a new dog.
"Having given one and knowing the bond you develop with those dogs triggered the feeling that I had to do something," Price said.
Price also helped start up the unit in 1965, when he donated his daughter Beth's dog to the department. His wife, afraid the dog might mistake children's play for danger and attack, had asked him to get rid of it.
"He was a good police dog," Beth says today. "He worked hard, he was a policeman's dog."
So 50 years later when Price heard about a deputy losing his dog, he knew he had to help.
Hoover said Price's donation, along with the countless others the department received, helped with the grieving.
"If anything positive could come out of this, that was it," said Lt. Kevin Hoover, who is part of the K-9 unit. "Unfortunately, we often see the worst in people but this gave us a chance to see the best."
Benefactors of Price's donations say he has been quietly representing the best in people for years.
"He's provided things we couldn't get on our own," said Ann O'Cain, principal at Gilbert High. "I'm forever grateful for everything he's done for our students."
Price's contributions have helped pay for various things at the school, including new scoreboards and an updated weight room.
Barbara Leopold of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York says private donors like Price can not only keep an organization going, but can also give them a sense of security, knowing they can depend on the community.
"Private donations are a sign of people that feel attached and want to give to the community," Leopold said. "The donations are terribly important, they help with sustainability."
Price says if he could he would spend another 100 years on his plantation in Kershaw just giving back to friends and the community that means so much to him. He recalls a conversation he had with his second wife, Jewell, before she died of a heart attack in April 1992.
"One day I said, ‘Life has been so good to me and all my friends have been so good to me' and she said, ‘Yes, but you have been good to them as well.'"