J.H. Whittemore was a successful businessman in the iron industry who partnered with fellow industrialist, B.B. Tuttle to form The Tuttle & Whittemore Company (now The Eastern Company) in 1858 in Naugatuck, Connecticut. When his son J.H. Jr. died at age 15 in 1887 of a genetic heart ailment, the grief-stricken father decided to honor his son’s memory by building The Howard Whittemore Memorial Library in Naugatuck.
“My great-great grandfather was the son of a minister,” said Thyrza Whittemore of Middlebury. “It was ingrained in him that you give, share and help – that the community is your family.” J.H.’s grandson, Harris Whittemore Jr., Thyrza’s grandfather, founded the Salem Foundation in 1953, a private foundation to support charitable giving in Naugatuck and surrounding towns.
Harris Whittemore, Jr., along with a few other family members, including Thyrza’s father, Robert Whittemore, ran the Salem Foundation on behalf of the family. In 1997, Robert terminated the private foundation and transferred the assets to the Connecticut Community Foundation, creating the Salem Foundation Fund. He found partnering with Connecticut Community Foundation to be more cost effective and less of an administrative burden.
“My father wanted someone local to manage our family foundation and the Foundation was the perfect place,” she said. After her father died in 2010, Thyrza and her cousin Karin continued as advisors to recommend grants from the fund.
“It’s the perfect partnership,” said Thyrza. “We choose what we want to give to and the Foundation finds out the details about the organization or project. They stay in touch with the nonprofit to provide us with updates on the projects we’re funding.”
Since 1997, the Salem Foundation Fund has awarded more than $781,000 to area nonprofits, including nearly $184,000 to restore the recently completed rotunda at the Whittemore Memorial Library.
“We get to support tangible things that benefit other people,” she said. “We are particularly pleased to be able to continue our family legacy of support for the library which is much more than books and quiet studying. It’s a hub for the community. “Working on the fund gives me a wonderful, deeper sense of family connection with relatives who I never knew but I admire tremendously,” said Thyrza.