For decades, Art and Joanne Popehn’s family foundation at the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota (CCF) has represented the culmination of a deeply held belief. “My father started with nothing and became very successful, but he never took pride in having earned what he got,” explains Peggy (Popehn) Carlson. “In his view, it all came from God. That’s why my parents wanted to make sure it all goes back to the Catholic community.”
Peggy’s parents met as choir members at St. Helena Catholic Church in Minneapolis. Art, who was a few years older than Joanne, had already served in World War II as a Navy aviator and then worked his way through Dunwoody College of Technology, where he showed a talent for engineering. After the couple married in 1948, Art would come home from his day job and spend his evenings working in the basement of their Minneapolis apartment, where he had set up a tool and die shop. He eventually transformed the basement business into his own manufacturing company.
While Art ran the business, Joanne ran the household and took care of their four children.
“She was a sweetheart,” Peggy says of her mother. “We had a very loving childhood. My dad made sure we toed the line, but my mom was a softie.”
Giving Back to the Faith
Peggy joined her parents as an advisor to the family foundation a few years before her mother’s death in 2016. After that, Peggy’s husband, Steve Carlson, also became an advisor. Steve regularly drove his father-in-law to appointments at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, which provided them a lot of time together. Steve says, “He would often tell me, ‘Everything I’ve got is a gift from God, and when I leave this Earth, I will give it back to him.’”
Art passed away in 2021, three months shy of his 102nd birthday. By then, Peggy and Steve had already taken on full responsibility for overseeing the foundation’s distribution of funds.
Growing the Church and Helping the Poor
As the Carlsons make decisions about grant distributions, they observe the guidelines Art set for the foundation — to help the Church flourish and grow and to support charities that provide vocational training. Giving is also influenced by Art’s experience as a child during the Great Depression. “My father grew up very poor, and that made a strong impact on him,” says Peggy. “With the foundation, one of his wishes was always to help the poorest of the poor.”
The Carlsons’ role as advisors has been highly satisfying but not without challenges. “The hardest part is deciding — who do we give to?” says Peggy. “The world is always changing, and there are always new groups to fund. We want to be open to change while staying true to the original vision.”
Eventually the Carlsons hope to pass responsibility for the foundation to the next generation, but for now they value the opportunity it provides to help others. “For me,” Peggy says, “the best part has been carrying out my parents’ legacy and their passion for giving.”