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A Message from Board Chair, James Nicholson, on the Retirement of Mariam Noland

March 23rd, 2021 Back to Browse Stories

When Mariam Noland, president of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, told me her plan to retire at the end of this year, I had mixed emotions. Mariam’s leadership has been a force for change in our seven-county region. She and the Community Foundation have had a hand in countless transformational projects to improve life in southeast Michigan over the last three decades. But it’s her less obvious impact of building endowment to sustain our region’s charitable sector that particularly impresses me. Over her tenure as the organization’s founding president, the Community Foundation has granted more than $1.2 billion to nonprofit organizations and amassed more than $1 billion in assets, becoming a key resource for those who wish to make positive change in our region.

On the other hand, she and her spouse Jim Kelly deserve time to enjoy family and friends, to travel, and to experience a little down time. I can rest easy knowing that the high-performing organization that Mariam created is well-positioned to continue its important work.

Joe Hudson, the visionary founding board chair of the Community Foundation who passed earlier this year, recruited Mariam from the St. Paul Community Foundation in 1985. Joe felt that a source of permanent, flexible endowment was a missing piece of our civic fabric in southeast Michigan, and he became the champion for establishing a community foundation in our region. He knew that finding the right leader would be critical to establishing the type of resource he envisioned. He couldn’t have known how perfect Mariam would be for the job.

In the next 36 years, Mariam would lead the Community Foundation through some of its most challenging episodes including Detroit’s bankruptcy and the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Grand Bargain” preserved retiree pensions and cultural assets. COVID-19 relief funds sustained small businesses, arts and culture institutions, and nonprofit health providers. Mariam also helped to create transformational change in our region by supporting the development of 100 miles of greenways trails and bringing stakeholders together to launch the New Economy Initiative (NEI), which supports entrepreneurship in Detroit and in the region. In 2020, the Community Foundation had a record year, awarding $104 million in grants.

In the coming months, the board will conduct a national search to find the next Community Foundation president. We will find a successor, but there will never be another Mariam Noland.

With gratitude,

Jim Nicholson
Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan