In 1958 Mayer and Morris Kaplan, father and son, established The Mayer & Morris Kaplan Family Foundation as a manifestation of their commitment to “Tzedakah,” a Jewish concept of helping others and encouraging justice. A large portion of the Foundation’s resources came from the 1986 sale of the family’s business, Sealy Mattress Company, and a bequest of funds from lifelong friend Jerome Joss.
Five generations of Kaplans have served on the board of the Foundation since its inception. Today, the Foundation is led by three generations of family and a dedicated staff of professionals.
Historically, the Foundation has focused grantmaking in the city of Chicago in multiple program areas including arts, education, social services, environment, and community organizing. In 2009, to allow Trustees living outside Chicago to better engage in the work of the Foundation, the board expanded grantmaking beyond Chicago to include parts of California and the Rocky Mountain West. Today, the Foundation makes grants focused on Education and the Environment in these three regions, while remaining committed to supporting programs and initiatives that forge a more progressive, inclusive and democratic society.
For more than 50 years, Morris (Morry) Kaplan’s strong leadership guided the Foundation and inspired his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to embrace philanthropic responsibility. Morry remained actively and passionately involved in the activities of the Foundation until his death on June 1, 2011. Morry’s vision for the Foundation was that it would not only promote philanthropy, but would also bring multiple generations together to discuss important issues and enjoy time together as a family. Today, Morry’s vision is reality – the family gathers throughout the year to make strategic and thoughtful funding decisions, and the ongoing participation of each generation honors Morry’s legacy and continues to shape the spirit and future of the Foundation.
Morry’s oldest son, Burton Kaplan, helped to establish the Foundation’s philanthropic vision and remained an integral member of the board until his death in March of 2011. Much of the Foundation’s grantmaking was guided by Burt’s commitment to providing educational opportunities for the underserved and his passion for art of all kinds. The legacy of these two leaders continues to influence both the family and its philanthropic endeavors.