Most people living in Colorado Springs today have some inkling of the existence of El Pomar Foundation, along with the influence Spencer and Julie Penrose have had on the prosperity of our fair city.
There is a long history behind the couple’s generous gift, along with a mission “to enhance, encourage, and promote the current and future well-being of the people of Colorado.”
In early 1937, Spencer “Spec” Penrose was diagnosed with cancer. One can only guess that this was a wakeup call for Penrose and his wife, Julie, who were the visionaries and creators of The Broadmoor Hotel. It was time to begin to plan for the legacy they would leave behind for their beloved adopted hometown. El Pomar Foundation was incorporated that same year with initial funding of $1.4 million.
It is well known that the Penroses were quite wealthy, with Spencer Penrose having earned his fortune largely through mining ventures. Julie, who was a widow with one child prior to her marriage to Spencer Penrose, was wealthy in her own right.
According to R. Thayer Tutt, Jr., vice chairman and chief investment officer of El Pomar Foundation, the Penroses “were an incredible team.” Spencer Penrose was the visionary and entrepreneur, while Julie was a patroness of the arts and a philanthropist.
“He was the promoter, and she was the steward of the assets,” Tutt said, noting that Spencer Penrose gave great consideration to Julie’s frame of reference, which was taking care of others and changing lives, beautification and supporting the arts.
Tutt added that Julie “was his (Spencer Penrose’s) conscience that guided him beyond simple economics.” The couple’s combined vision was to change the economy of Colorado Springs while taking care of its citizens.
Upon Spencer Penrose’s death in 1939, $12.2 million from his estate went to El Pomar Foundation. As president of the foundation from 1939 until her death in 1956, Julie Penrose was the overseer of the assets and the grants that benefitted from these assets.
From 1937-1956, El Pomar Foundation assets consisted mostly of stock in The Broadmoor Hotel, Kennecott Copper and Garden City Land and Sugar Company.
The first six grants the foundation made in 1937 are examples of the interests held dear by Spencer and Julie Penrose, such as health care, education and the arts. They were given to the Junior League of Colorado Springs Nutrition Camp, Fountain Valley School of Colorado, Penrose Colorado Community School, Glockner Hospital, Boys and Girls Club of Colorado Springs and the Central City Opera.
Upon Julie’s death, $7.4 million from her estate was added to the coffers, making a total of $15 million in assets for El Pomar.
Julie’s daughter, Gladys, received the bulk of her mother’s estate, along with all of her mother’s jewelry and two Renoir paintings.
Spencer Penrose had no biological children. Several nieces and nephews and various employees and friends all received bequests upon his death.
From 1956 to the present, the assets of El Pomar Foundation have increased from $21 million to $1.1 billion. Grant awards totaling $510 million, to date, leave remaining assets of $620 million. The impact of the Penroses’ vision is nothing short of astounding. El Pomar is one of the largest foundations in the state of Colorado, and the largest in Colorado Springs.
In 1955, Thayer Tutt’s father, Russell Thayer Tutt, Sr., began diversifying the portfolio investments resulting in impressive gains over the years. With a current payout of approximately 5% of assets toward grants yearly, the foundation will continue to flourish.
The Pikes Peak region was the couple’s top priority to benefit from their gift. Grants from El Pomar Foundation are only bestowed within the state of Colorado, with 60% going to recipients in the Pikes Peak region, and 40% to the remainder of the state.
The emphasis has always been to support civic and community grants. There has been a change in philosophy over the last 20 years, with the focus moving more toward serving at-risk populations in rural communities.