Patricia Mullins, a founding member of the Board of Trustees for the Isabelle Ridgway Foundation, discusses the enduring legacy of the foundation's namesake, Isabelle Ridgway, and how her values shape the work of the foundation now and into the future.
Who was Isabelle Ridgway?
Mrs. Isabelle Ridgway, an African American Ohio native, was born in 1858, five years before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. She married John Ridgway in 1880, and to that union was born one son and four daughters.
Isabelle Ridgway. Photo courtesy of the Isabelle Ridgway Foundation.
She founded the Old Folks Home of Franklin County in 1912 and worked tirelessly to meet the needs of the old, elderly, homeless, and poor. Although she died on April 4, 1955, at the age of 97, her life’s work and witness continued through the Isabelle Ridgway Care Center until it was sold in 2015.
Mrs. Ridgway is remembered as a pioneer who toiled continuously to fulfill her commitment to service to her community. Mrs. Ridgway’s example of hard work, her untiring dedication, and the essence of heritage has been passed on from generation to generation for more than 100 years, and continues to motivate those of us who strive to carry on her legacy today.
How does Isabelle Ridgway’s legacy shape the work of her namesake foundation today?
The Isabelle Ridgway Care Center began in 1912 to benefit persons of African American descent who were poor and disenfranchised. At that time, there were no entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Families looked after older family members as they aged. If there was no family, usually African American churches would step in and fill that need. In the case of Mrs. Ridgway, one can surmise she saw the need as ministry or her calling to serve a need in her community.
The first "Old Folks Home" was located at 159 North 21st St., then later moved to the Old Jeffrey Mansion at 71 Winner Ave. (pictured)
Of course, many of us thought of the Isabelle Ridgway Care Center as a place or home where the elderly in our community could live in comfort, have privacy, companionship, and care.
In late 2017, the Isabelle Ridgway Foundation, in partnership with The Columbus Foundation and OhioHealth, commissioned the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University to conduct a study of the needs of African American elderly in central Ohio in order to inform the foundation’s funding initiatives. The study recommended four areas of concentration. They included: 1) Funding a Village Initiative for Aging and Senior African Americans, 2) Preserving Existing Wealth by Reinvesting in African American Communities, 3) Championing Aging and Senior African Americans, and 4) Supporting Storytelling and Civic Participation of Aging and Senior African Americans.
Isabelle Ridgway Foundation's 2020 grant to Central Community House expand its Village Central Network program and purchase a vehicle to transport seniors to grocery stores, health appointments, and community events. Photo courtesy of Central Community House.
As a result of the study, the Isabelle Ridgway Foundation undertook its first funding project in 2019 with Central Community House to launch Village Central by initially funding a Village Coordinator and reinvesting in this initiative again in 2020 and 2021. Additionally, during 2021, Isabelle Ridgway Foundation will finance a special storytelling project, Well-Seasoned Stories, where TRANSIT ARTS youth and artists will conduct interviews by audio or video with 36 seniors. Upon completion of the project, the stories will be shared via the Isabelle Ridgway Foundation website and social media.
Looking out 10, 20 years, what do you want the Isabelle Ridgway Foundation’s work to have achieved?
When I look out into the future and consider what the Isabelle Ridgway Foundation has achieved, my hope is we will have fulfilled our mission and inspired and empowered others to care and serve.