COLUMN: CEO Kathryn Merchant's influence will be missed at helm of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

She helped move 'us towards the future we want'

Chances are you don't know the name Kathryn Merchant.

And that's too bad because she has spent the past 17 years as CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation figuring out how to spend other people's money to make the region a better place.

With Merchant at the helm, the downtown-based foundation has tackled everything from racial unrest to poverty to educational attainment and job readiness.

She and the foundation's board created the "Weathering the Economic Storm Fund" in 2009 to help the region cope with its worst economic crisis in 60 years, bringing other funders together to help address Greater Cincinnati's desperate, immediate needs.

Just this year, the foundation served as "co-convener" of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, the group that's working to preserve Union Terminal and Music Hall.

After all that, Merchant is planning to retire in June 2015. By that point, she'll have had the job for 18 years and will be 63 years old.

"I've done what I set out to do," Merchant told me during a recent interview at her office. "I've had fun making change and making this community better. I'm proud of it."

When I got the announcement June 9 that Merchant was retiring, I was a little stunned. It's not exactly that I thought she would be the foundation's CEO forever. It just felt a little like she had always been there.

See, I grew up in Northern Kentucky. I left to go to college and worked in a few different cities before I moved back about 18 years ago. So it felt like for just about as long as I had been a reporter back in my hometown, Kathy Merchant had been here at GCF.

She helped redefine what a community foundation should be here and made GCF something of a model for the nation as a result.

Insiders can read more about how Merchant did that and what she plans to do after she retires from The Greater Cincinnati Foundation next year.

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