What started as a bad headache for Bill Hybl became a life-threatening medical emergency that changed how he viewed the rest of his life and the way he ran southern Colorado’s largest foundation.
In Seoul for the 1988 Summer Olympics as vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Hybl had just returned with his wife, Kathy, to their hotel room from a shopping trip with a “terrible headache.” An Olympic Committee official called to ask if he was available for a meeting, and realizing Hybl needed medical attention, called the Army doctor assigned to the Olympic Committee to examine him.
“He said I had a stroke, or aneurysm, and called an ambulance. While I’m in the ambulance, a nurse told the dispatcher over the radio that they were seven minutes from the hospital and ‘we still have him.’ That was a show stopper for me,” Hybl said. “Two days later they flew me to the U.S. and told me that the aneurysm had sealed itself. That only happens in 4.5 percent of these cases. I had a total recovery.”
After returning to work two months later, Hybl met with his doctor and with now-retired Catholic Bishop Richard Hanifen about how to provide better health care for low-income Colorado Springs residents. Those meetings led to a major grant that same year to Community Health Center of Colorado Springs (now Peak Vista Community Health Centers) for expansion from its single location. Facilitated by $15 million in El Pomar grants, Peak Vista operates 26 locations serving 94,000 patients in southeast Colorado.
El Pomar’s first grant financed Peak Vista’s first health center.
“El Pomar along with Bill Hybl has supported Peak Vista and its mission for many years through leadership, training opportunities, grants, as our presenting sponsor at the Breakfast of Champions fundraising event and so much more,” said Peak Vista CEO Pam McManus.
Bill Hybl, 76, stepped down as El Pomar’s CEO on March 1 and was replaced by his son, Kyle Hybl, in what Bill Hybl called a “generational move.” Kyle Hybl has been with the foundation since 2000 and had been chief operating officer since 2013.
Hybl said the health care-related grants and new programs he championed are “absolutely” a result of his life-threatening illness. “I felt like I had gotten extra time. I believe that it created the impetus to get things done and not wait. You never know how long the wait might be.”
That was just the beginning. Hybl wanted to expand El Pomar beyond making grants for buildings and other facilities. In 1989, he launched El Pomar’s Awards for Excellence to honor Colorado’s best nonprofits with unsolicited cash awards. During the last 30 years, the program has given more than $6 million to more than 500 nonprofits across the state, from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs to La Plata Youth Services in Durango. El Pomar created its fellowship program two years later to train recent college graduates to work in nonprofits, training nearly 300.
Hybl said the fellowship program is closest to his heart and he points proudly to alumni that include HomeAdvisor CEO Craig Smith, Daniels Fund Executive Vice President Kristin Todd, The Joseph Henry Edmondson Foundation CEO Heather Carroll, El Pomar Chief Operating Officer Matt Carpenter and many other nonprofit and business executives across Colorado.
Hybl engineered the 1992 purchase of the historic El Pomar Center, the former home of foundation founders Spencer and Julie Penrose, to become a free conference center for nonprofits and government agencies. A year later, El Pomar formed a partnership with the American Council of Young Political Leaders to bring more than 70 delegations from 40 countries to learn about Colorado state and local government.
During the next two decades, El Pomar started programs to match community donations in The Gazette’s Empty Stocking Fund; train nonprofit executives; host lectures, panel discussions and seminars; provide training for emerging ethnic minority leaders; support local military personnel and their families; help get disadvantaged high school students ready for college; and promote outdoor recreation assets.
Hybl also wanted to spread El Pomar’s help beyond Colorado’s Front Range to make more grants in rural areas. To meet that goal, El Pomar divided the state into 11 regions, each with its council of local leaders to advise the foundation’s trustees on targeting grants. El Pomar sends $200,000 to each region for projects the councils recommend. The program has helped the foundation triple the share of its $22 million in annual giving that goes to rural areas to nearly 30 percent.
“Bill has been both strategic and innovative in his leadership of the foundation, creating a dedicated team of employees, trustees and fellows who are deeply committed to serving the citizens of Colorado,” said Thayer Tutt, El Pomar’s vice chairman, who has worked with Hybl more than 20 years.
“His regional partnership initiative takes our grant-making to every corner of the state.”
Hybl had been recruited as El Pomar’s first staff member by trustees Russell Tutt and Ben Wendelken in 1973, when he was serving as a state representative, to help El Pomar comply with a 1969 tax law that required foundations to sell businesses that didn’t have publicly traded stock. He had been an Army intelligence officer in Africa, an assistant district attorney and deputy district attorney in the 4th Judicial District and in private practice. The foundation at that time had $76.3 million in assets.
“The trustees had always run El Pomar out of the hotel (The Broadmoor), which the foundation owned, and got (administrative) support from the hotel,” Hybl said.
“The 1969 tax act would force the sale of the hotel and I was hired to bring it into compliance. After 19 years of trying to get the law changed, we sold 67 percent of The Broadmoor to Oklahoma Publishing Co. less than a year before the deadline to comply with the act. We were fortunate to have a good buyer at a good price. (Oklahoma Publishing bought out El Pomar’s remaining interest in 2003.)”
El Pomar had been approached by several New York investment groups interested in buying The Broadmoor, but Hybl said the foundation didn’t want to sell to them because the groups had planned to “make a few enhancements and then flip the property, which didn’t fit with the strategy El Pomar had.” Colorado Springs developer Bruce Shepard, who died in 2015, introduced El Pomar to Oklahoma Publishing CEO Ed Gaylord, who had been Shepard’s partner in Douglas County’s Greenland Ranch.
During Hybl’s 46 years at El Pomar, the foundation has grown to 65 employees and nearly $600 million in assets, or about eight times larger than when he arrived. During that time, El Pomar made more than $500 million in grants, or more than 10 times the amount it had made during the previous 36 years (El Pomar now gives away more in two years than it did during the years before he joined the foundation).
The largest grant made during Hybl’s tenure — $32 million — enabled construction of The Broadmoor World Arena. El Pomar also gave $10.2 million to Colorado College in 2007 for its El Pomar Sports Center, $10 million to the U.S. Olympic Museum pledged over five years in 2014, $4 million to help the Focus on the Family Christian ministry move its headquarters to Colorado Springs from California and $3 million to rescue an incentive deal to keep the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs. The foundation also made smaller grants under Hybl to help Junior Achievement move its headquarters to the Springs and to help the Center for Creative Leadership to build a local campus.
“I think what has always made Bill Hybl so special is the fact that he has really followed the wishes of Mr. and Mrs. Penrose,” said Broadmoor CEO Jack Damioli.
“Bill Hybl has never been about Bill. It’s always been about Mr. and Mrs. Penrose. With that he has done so much good for the community, whether it’s the USOC headquarters moving to this community, whether it’s the Air Force Academy moving to this community, whether it’s been the 25 governing boards of sport that have moved to this community, El Pomar Foundation has been at the heart of all that.”
Hybl likes to point out that the fifth largest recipient of El Pomar’s money is the IRS — the foundation has paid $17 million in tax in the 50 years because the same law that forced it to sell The Broadmoor also required it and other foundations to pay taxes.
One grant that El Pomar awarded but never paid is among Hybl’s regrets. The foundation had agreed to a $6 million grant in the late 1990s for a complex to house, feed and provide other services to homeless people near the Martin Drake power plant, but neighbors fought the project and the Colorado Springs City Council rejected it. Springs Rescue Mission began construction last week on the final phase of a similar project nearby.
“That was unfortunate. The Springs Rescue Mission is a facility that executes what we would have built at that time,” Hybl said. “It was the right thing for the community to reach out to people who are homeless and do our very best to provide humane housing for them.”
Springs Rescue Mission CEO Larry Yonker said El Pomar’s influence in the philanthropic community is unparalleled — other foundations and major donors often follow El Pomar’s lead. After receiving about $100,000 in small grants during the past three years, Springs Rescue Mission recently received a three-year grant totaling $1 million to help fund the final phase of its Las Vegas Street campus — a kitchen, a 200-person dining room and a welcome center.
“Supplemental funding from Anschutz or Daniels or Boettcher or Gates or Coors — any of the other statewide foundations — they always wait until they see what El Pomar’s going to do,” Yonker said. “It’s a big deal when you’ve got El Pomar’s endorsement on a project, it makes it much, much easier.”
Hybl isn’t leaving El Pomar. He will remain as chairman of its Board of Trustees and will handle the foundation’s small emergency grants, including breakfasts, luncheons and dinners it hosts, El Pomar’s military and international programs and will remain on the boards of the U.S. Olympic Endowment as chairman and the International Swimming Federation. He is keeping his office at the foundation and plans to work four days a week.
“I’m not riding into the sunset,” Hybl said. “It is my goal and desire in the things I continue to work on that the final chapter of my legacy is not yet written. I want to continue to help make the community better and still have an impact nationally and internationally in what I am doing. I will continue to try to fulfill the expectations of Russell Tutt and Ben Wendelken.”
Jakob Rodgers and Vince Bzdek contributed to this story.