Jerre Stead is a lifetime Board of Visitors member at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and is the current CEO of Churchill Capital Corporation. Jerre and Mary Joy Stead established the Stead Family Chair in International Philanthropy in 2014, which is currently held by Pamala Wiepking, Ph.D.
What were some traditions of giving in your family growing up?
Jerre Stead (JS): Both of us grew up in a small town in Iowa and our families had a lot in common, especially our grandparents. Mary Joy’s great-grandfather was a missionary in India for 42 years and helped found several schools, a number of churches, a printing business, and medical facilities. Her grandparents were missionaries in Utah as well, and so she always grew up with a need to be active in giving and supporting with one’s time, treasure and talent.
On my side, I grew up with two grandmothers who were very active in the Methodist church. Along with my parents, they taught me to tithe from day one.
My parents were also very active in church. Dad was superintendent of the Sunday school and sang a lot of solos in the choir, while my mother played organ and piano.
Mary Joy Stead (MJS): The deepest tradition was that you needed to support with your time, talent, and treasure. Jerre’s Grandma Stead was Teacher of the Year in Iowa at age 80.
JS: She was always a giver.
We were always taught to support each other. Never questioned whether we should or shouldn’t, it was just the way it was.
Growing up, the family stressed that tithing didn’t just mean giving 10 percent of your funds, but also 10 percent or more of your time. Therefore, I was very active in school as a junior and senior president of the high school class, president of the student council, lettered 13 times in sports, was in the band, sang vocals, and was also convinced by the drama teacher to be in a play.
Mary Joy had a wonderful voice. She was in student council, honor society, played the flute and piccolo, and won a lot of state awards in singing. She was also always active in the Congregational church. While I was coaching brothers in little league baseball and boy scouts, Mary Joy mentored rainbow and girl scouts. It was just expected.
Mary Joy and I knew there are times in people’s lives that they can only give of their time and talent and this was important to remember.
MJS: A defining moment for Jerre was when he went to the Worldwide Boy Scouts Jamboree. To afford to go, he had two paper routes. Farmers allowed him to glean leftover corn in their fields to sell. By attending the International jamboree at 13 years old, Jerre developed a global awareness.
His senior year in high school, he was president of the United Christ Youth Group. He still remembers making choices between that group and sports. For this youth group, he would miss basketball practice, which meant he was also going to miss the state meet finals. He ended up having to sit out half of the game.
Mary Joy and Jerre started dating when they were 14. Jerre was the eldest son of three; Mary Joy was the only daughter with one brother. Jerre received a full ride to Dartmouth for football while Mary Joy had a full ride to Northwestern. They decided to forgo both scholarships and attend the University of Iowa–together. While both sets of parents didn’t like it, they married after their freshmen years.
JS: In those days, you couldn’t marry if you were under 21 without parental approval. We moved in to a 44 x 10 foot trailer where we went to college and had our two sons, all at the University of Iowa.
They really hadn’t thought of themselves as philanthropists.
MJS: Only lately, but we made a decision a long, long time ago that when we were able, we would start giving.
In Jerre’s commencement speech to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy graduating class of 2018, you mention giving as an “investment.” What does that mean?
JS: We always thought that each pledge needed an agreement of milestones. For example, with our gift to the children’s hospital, we laid out an agreement with a pledge and reports coming back to know if we chose the right goals for the dean and nursing departments.
Have we made life easier for the patients and families? If so, there would be rewards for that department if they met these goals.
Will the family foundation become the vehicle for giving in the Stead Family?
JS: Eventually. We have one staff member, who is keeping track of funding and she will oversee what is going on. Our children and grandchildren are already giving.
You have really transformed giving to the sciences. Can you talk about that?
JS: We are working with Dr. Eric Reiman, CEO for Banner Research, to develop a prevention vaccine for Alzheimer’s. We also work with The Salvation Army to get young people and adults to live healthier lives and properly address mental health issues through our Fountain House in New York City.
MJS: Alzheimer’s disease affected Jerre’s mother (and aunt, although it was misdiagnosed and she was put in a mental hospital), but he knows it has global impact.
It accounts for 60 percent of health care costs worldwide, so really how do we bend the curve?
He knows his mother had a head injury from a bike accident when she was 57 and it was probably the impact that expressed itself down the road. He remembers Mom would forget what she was cooking. They enrolled her in a three-step community in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Jerre’s dad was the main caretaker and very protective, so much so that we didn’t know how bad it was.
JS: I still remember the call that he had a massive heart attack during the symphony. I was in Singapore. I read my mom the obituary several times and she didn’t understand. She had everybody fooled at the funeral. She greeted everyone and then would turn to me and ask who that was. I got her in a care center but they didn’t have a facility for Alzheimer’s so we built one.
I also went on the National Alzheimer’s Research Foundation board to help make a difference. We set very high goals and expectations. They didn’t move as efficiently, but you don’t give up. I really like matching gifts—one to three, but never to exceed 15 percent of a project. Giving 10 percent feels right.
You’re on the Generosity Commission. How has that helped in your giving?
JS: Giving needs to expand throughout the country. We need to get people active, to build a much better network of all of the organizations, and to support legislative bills to optimize coordination.
It’s challenging, but I am very optimistic.