History of the Appleton Education Foundation

The first recorded notes about the foundation date back to 1996. Early leaders began with the belief that the tax dollar alone could provide an adequate education for students. Reaching educational excellence in our community would take a public-private partnership.

Members decided to establish an education foundation. It would accept private contributions and make grants to provide district students and staff members with creative teaching and learning opportunities that could not be funded by public resources. It would operate independently of the school district while maintaining a collaborative relationship. It would be a supporting organization of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The Appleton Education Foundation was formed.

It entered the public eye in 1997 when retired AASD educator Mary Beth Nienhaus made a gift of $200,000 to renovate the former Goodland Field to Nienhaus Field. In a Post-Crescent article at that time, AEF’s board president, Jeff Riester, said the foundation was embarking on a “grand adventure” and “what we think will be a great gift to the community” beginning with Nienhaus Field.

Appleton Area School District students and educators have been the beneficiaries of the vision, time, skill and financial resources that came together to form the Appleton Education Foundation. And what a grand adventure the past years have been.

In the early years, board member contributions financed AEF’s grants while the members and other volunteers worked to raise an endowment that could sustain grant making in perpetuity.

At the end of our 2020 fiscal year, the Appleton Education Foundation had more than 80 endowed and other charitable funds under management to benefit innovative programs and teaching strategies that fall outside of the core school budget. More than 3,000 donors have contributed to the AEF. Since 1997, more than $5 million in grants has been awarded. Grants in the past fiscal year alone totaled more than $260,000.

It is a privilege for the Appleton Education Foundation to support district staff members’ creative ideas with grants. Their work helps inspire excellence in students and sets them on a path to becoming productive citizens and lifelong learners.