Community Foundation Celebrates 40 Years

Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation Celebrates 40 Years of Making an Impact

The staff of the Community Foundation celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Community Opportunity Fund. Photo submitted.

Here in the Northland, we are blessed to be surrounded by many people – and organizations – who care. The Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation (Community Foundation, for short) is one notable example.

Founded in Duluth in 1983 by Kay Slack (the former President of the United Way) and Richard Burns (an attorney), along with several other dedicated individuals, the Foundation exists for the sole purpose of serving our community.

The Community Foundation’s explicit, three-pronged goal is to “Provide grants that finance good work in our region, scholarships to further the education of people of all ages, and leadership on important community issues.”

The Foundation, located at 324 West Superior Street, Suite 700, is staffed by a team of 10 and governed by a 13-member Board of Directors. To date, the organization has given out a whopping $72 million in grants and scholarships to individuals and organizations in our community.

Shaun Floerke, Richard Burns & Kay Slack reminisce about Community Foundation history. Photo submitted.

Past beneficiaries have included the YMCA, CHUM, Men as Peacemakers, Boys & Girls Club, Steve O’Neil Apartments, and many more. In fact, “You’d be hard-pressed to find a non-profit that the Foundation hasn’t helped in our region,” noted Community Foundation President and CEO, Shaun Floerke.

What they Do

The Community Foundation exists to help others. Through various funds – the largest of which is their Community Opportunity Fund – Community Foundation provides grants to 501©(3) non-profits, school districts, libraries, and some government entities.

The foundation also provides a variety of scholarships. Over 80 scholarships are available, which help students enroll in two-year and four-year post-secondary programs and study a variety of trades.

In 2023, the Foundation gave nearly $800,000 in scholarships to more than 125 students.

Amber Burns is promoting scholarships at Mesabi East High School. Photo submitted.

While the Foundation focuses on giving in the Twin Ports community, its geographic area includes seven counties in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, five counties in Northwestern Wisconsin, and seven Tribal nations. The Foundation does grant work throughout this area, working with donors and nonprofits throughout. The Community Foundation also has affiliates to assist in Cook County, the Apostle Islands, Two Harbors, and Eveleth.

The Community Foundation is funded 100% through philanthropy. “This is often through folks giving gifts through estate planning and people thinking about their legacy,” Floerke explained. “But, there’s generosity everywhere.”

Looking ahead to 2024, the Foundation is focusing on the themes of opportunity, belonging, and resilience. Special consideration will be given to applicants whose applications align with these themes. “Transformational grants” – for entities who emphasize collaboration and partnerships - will be another focus.


As President and CEO, Floerke described himself as the “connector and collaborator” for the Foundation. One of Floerke’s other significant roles is to oversee the Foundation’s investments to ensure they grow in perpetuity.

Shaun Floerke is President and CEO of the Community Foundation

Interestingly, Floerke is a former attorney and a former judge in Minnesota’s 6th Judicial District. He left his career in law behind in 2021 to work for the Community Foundation.

Floerke developed a heart for the people who passed through his courtroom during his tenure on the bench. Yes, they made mistakes. But many of them were also hurting deeply.

As a judge, Floerke created several initiatives to help people who were struggling. For instance, he founded South St. Louis County DWI Court, South St. Louis County Safe Babies Court, and the Duluth Domestic Violence Restorative Circles process. These initiatives, sometimes referred to as “treatment courts,” help address people’s problems to help them turn their lives around and stop the criminal cycle.

Floerke knows that a simple hand up can make an immense impact; both for individuals, and for the community at large. His career change to the non-profit sector reflects Floerke’s desire to help on a broader scale.

“I loved the judicial work, but knew I wanted to do something to create opportunities for people in a different realm,” he said. “In the courtroom, I’d spend my time thinking about how to help people thrive. It was super rewarding.

Carl Crawford of the Unity Fund committee and Shaun Floerke announce a funding milestone that advances African heritage communities. Photo submitted

“But now, I get to look out my window and think about how to help Duluth-Superior thrive,” he added. “I get to think more broadly about thriving - for a whole community.”

Floerke and his wife, Sara, who works as a learning coach, have five children: Merit (29), Connor (27), Cole (25), Curran (23), and Mercedes (20). They also have a pit bull named Rory.

Floerke is originally from southern Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his undergraduate degree in history. He earned his JD from the University of Minnesota.

Shaun and Sara moved to Duluth in 1996 and have become passionate about the area. “I’m a hopeless Duluth evangelist,” he said with a chuckle. “On airplanes, in hotels – anywhere I am, I talk about Duluth.”


Floerke shared that the most moving part about his role at the Community Foundation is witnessing our community’s generosity. “That’s been one of the coolest things for me – meeting folks who care so deeply about our community and watching people thrive,” he shared.

“In this role, I can introduce people to giving back,” he added. “And, I’ve been really honored to witness the generosity in our region.”

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