Fenton Community and Cultural Center
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About the Fenton Community & Cultural Center

When the five Trustees of the Rackham estate were considering the projects they should support in carrying out the provisions and intent of Mr. Rackham's will, the establishment of a community center in a small community seemed to them appropriate and desirable, and as four of them knew the Fenton Community well, its interests and needs, Fenton was chosen for undertaking.

Of the five Trustees, the three members of the Horton family, Mrs. Rakham, Mrs. Bussey, and Mr. Horton, had been born in Fenton; and another, Mr. Rolland, had grown up there. Mr. Rackham had known and loved the town. In the account of their various grants and endowments, the Horace H. Rackham and Mary A. Rackham Fund, published by the Trustees in 1940, Fenton was described as "a decorous, tree-shaped, typically American village in the heart of a agricultural district...without a central gathering place" and with "no community facilities for the promotion of leadership, educational advancement, social enjoyment, or civic improvement." The population numbered around four thousand.

In 1919, in the center of the town, along the Shiawasee River, the Horton's had established and presented to the village of Fenton the Dexter Horton Park, on what had been part of their father's land, and they proposed that the community center be located on adjoining land. Accordingly, on January 20, 1937, the Trustees created a $200,000 trust fund to be used by Fenton to buy and clear the land and build a community house, and any remaining balance to supply income for upkeep. Since clearing the land would involve tearing down the old firemen's hall that contained the cities offices, a new building for the purpose had to be provided, and the Trustees made an additional appropriation of $5,000 toward its construction. The highly prized town clock, nearly seventy-five years old, was to be transferred from the old building to the new City and Fire Hall.

Plans for the Community Center building proceeded. It was designed by Eliel Saarinen, who had designed all of the buildings of the Cranbrook Foundation at Bloomfield Hills, and his son Eero. It was built by the W. E. Wood Company and was landscaped according to the plans of the landscape artist, Mrs. F. W. Whittlesey, of Phoenix, Arizona, daughter of Mr. Horton. The Trustees formally presented the building to the Village of Fenton on the afternoon of October 3, 1938, with president Ruthven addressing the audience of five hundred in the auditorium-ballroom on the second floor.

Because most of the original $200,000 trust fund had been used for the land, building, and landscaping, the Trustees added $100,000 as an endowment for upkeep, and again, on December 2, 1938, they added $35,000 to the endowment, along with a gift of $4,425 for intitial expenses. On January 26, 1940, there was a final gift of $10,000 for capital improvements. The total endowment, then amounted to $135,000, and outright gifts for land, building, and expenses totaled $219,425.

On July 19, 1938, an agreement was signed between the Horace H Rackham and Mary A. Rackham fund, as donor, the Regents of the University of Michigan, as donee, and the Village of Fenton, as beneficiary, vesting in the Regents control over the management and investment of the endowment fund of the Fenton Community Center, which was to be commingled with the principal Endowment Fund of the Horace H. Rackham School of the Board of Governors of the Fenton Community Center. The University receives no income form the Fund for its own use.

The composition and function of the Board of Governors of the Center was defined by the agreement between the three interested parties and remains unchanged. It is composed of seven members, serving without compensation, and includes the Presidents of the Village of Fenton and the Superintendent of Schools. It manages and directs the income and appoints the Director of the Center, but the Board of Governors of the Horace H Rackham School of Graduate Studies must approve this appointment. The Director arranges and supervises the program of activities, which are planned, as stated in the agreement, to secure "The enthusiastic co-operation of local groups, and have as their objectives the development of leadership and the benefiting of the people of the community in the fields of health, recreation, morals, cultural development and civic improvement. It is the expectation and desire...that the Community Center Board of Governors and the Director will endeavor to co-operate with the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies of the University of Michigan to the end that the Community Center shall at all times have the benefit of the expert counsel of those members of the faculty of the University of Michigan especially trained in community-center activities."

The arrangment had been remarkably successful. The Board of Governors and the Director by prudent managment of expenditures have been able to maintain the building in good condition, institute some improvements, build up carry-over in the bank balance,and finance a well-planned, comprehensive, and flexible program of activities and of co-operative undertakings with the schools and with local groups.

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150 South Leroy Street
Fenton, MI 48430
Phone: 810-629-2512
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