Dillard Kirby stepping down as president of the Kirby Foundation in Morristown

Dillard Kirby addresses MPAC screening of jetport movie. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Dillard Kirby addresses MPAC screening of jetport movie in 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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S. Dillard Kirby, who has helped lead the Morristown-based F.M. Kirby Foundation for 26 years, will step down as president this month in what he described on Monday as a “natural generational transition.”

His niece, Laura Horton Virkler,  the daughter of board member Alice Kirby Horton, will serve in the newly created position of voluntary chairperson, overseeing strategic planning.

Executive Vice President Justin J. Kiczek, a former English teacher, will be promoted to executive director to manage daily operations.

Kirby, 61, is the fourth generation to serve the Foundation, established in 1931 by his great-grandfather, Woolworth’s five-and-dime co-founder Fred Morgan Kirby.

The philanthropy has awarded $750 million in grants, with the bulk of the giving since the late 1960s, he said. On Monday, the Foundation announced approval of 86 grants amounting to $3.3 million, for a total of $10.1 million so far this year.

Jefferson Kirby, a benefactor of MPAC, at Kristin Chenoweth 2016-17 season opener at MPAC. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 23, 2016.
Jefferson Kirby, a benefactor of MPAC, at Kristin Chenoweth 2016-17 season opener at MPAC. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Sept. 23, 2016.

“It made sense to give the next generation enough time to make its own mark, while our generation still is young enough to serve,” said Kirby, who intends to remain active on the board, along with his sister Alice and brother Jefferson Kirby.

The Sept. 30, 2021, transition is the culmination of several years of planning, said Dillard Kirby. He was named executive director in 2000 and president in 2010.

The Foundation’s stated focus is “fostering self-reliance and developing strong, healthy communities,” in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and North Carolina, and supporting national nonprofits in Washington D.C. and New York City. Areas of interest include the arts, education, human services, health and public policy.

Dillard Kirby of the F.M. Kirby Foundation. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Dillard Kirby of the F.M. Kirby Foundation, in 2012. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Never one to seek the spotlight, Dillard Kirby lauded the board, and grantees he considers partners. More than half of grantees, he said, have had relationships with the Foundation for more than 20 years.

“I believe that is quite unique in philanthropy,” said the Morris County resident.

He expressed pride that 80 percent of the Foundation’s support goes towards general operating needs of grantees.

“We don’t ask grantee partners to make up programs for us to simply chase the funding cycle. We would rather find winners in areas of key interests to the board and stick with them long term. If that means our support helps to keep the lights on, well, that is very important,” Dillard Kirby said.

RE-EMERGING FROM THE PANDEMIC

Virkler has served on nonprofit boards of educational, environmental and human services  grantees of the Foundation, in the Research Triangle of North Carolina.

The 1995 Wake Forest University graduate has consulted for Accenture, worked as a real estate broker and owned a 65-acre boarding stable and farm that raised grass-fed Charolais-Black Angus beef cattle.

Laura Virkler, the new chairperson of the F.M. Kirby Foundation. Photo: LinkedIn.

“Eighteen years ago I became the fifth generation of our family to join the F.M. Kirby Foundation Board and it has been an honor to serve under both my grandfather and my uncle,” Virkler said in a statement.

“To see the impact that the non-profits we support have in our communities is an amazing testament to the vision of my great, great grandfather,” she said.

She praised Kiczek for “engaging with our grantees, staff and Board in a way that signals both the utmost respect for the past while also recognizing the importance of new initiatives.”

Justin Kiczek has been named executive director of the F.M. Kirby Foundation. Photo: LinkedIn

Virkler said she looks forward to watching him advance the Foundation “on multiple levels, as many of our current and potential new grantee partners fully reemerge from the pandemic crisis in new ways.”

Named executive vice president in 2019, Kiczek has led the Foundation’s grants program. Previously, he spent 16 years at the Turrell Fund as a vice president of programming and as a consultant.

He holds degrees from Hunter College and Holy Cross, and has taught English at Regis High School in New York and Seton Hall Preparatory in West Orange.

The Sansay House, home to the F.M. Kirby Foundation in Morristown, dates to 1807. Lafayette was feted there with a ball in 1825. Gen. Joseph Revere later lived there. Photo: FMKirbyFoundation.org.

A “somewhat unconventional hire,” Kiczek has impressed grantees with his empathy and his ability to listen, Dillard Kirby said. “And when he decides it’s time to speak, he is articulate and adds value.”

Kiczek said Dillard Kirby’s mentorship imparted a “profound respect” for the philanthropy’s founder, “as well as a model for being a compassionate listener and a wise grantmaker.”

“I am humbled by the prospect of following his tenure, but I am eager to work with my colleagues and our grantee partners in addressing the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Kiczek said in a statement.

‘AN INSPIRATION’

Dillard Kirby’s impact on Greater Morristown and Morris County has been significant, said leaders of nonprofits and civic institutions.

“Dillard’s approach to philanthropy was an inspiration,” said Hans Dekker, president of the Community Foundation of New Jersey in Morris Township.

“His approach to giving placed building a stronger, healthier, and culturally-rich community at the heart of their giving. His leadership spurred many of the institutions that make Morris County a wonderful place to call home to even greater heights.”

“Dillard is one of the most thoughtful, pleasant, decent people you will ever meet in your life–a real gentleman and a terrifically good guy,” said Chris Daggett, president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in Morristown from 2010-2018.

While Kirby did not greenlight every funding pitch, “he was always open to a conversation, always willing to listen…he’s one of the good guys in philanthropy,” said Daggett, now chairman of the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium.

The F.M. Kirby Foundation’s support, under Dillard Kirby’s leadership, has been “transformational” for the Mayo Performing Arts Center and the entire Morristown community, said Allison Larena, president and CEO of MPAC.

“We are deeply grateful to Dillard for his unwavering generosity, vision and commitment to building and sustaining a magnificent performing arts center that will be enjoyed by so many for generations to come,” Larena said.

“Words simply cannot express the profound impact of the role Dillard and the F.M. Kirby Foundation have had and will continue to have in the success of the theatre.”

Don Jay Smith, promoter of the Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival, got to know Dillard Kirby in the 1990s, when Smith and his late wife, Linda Kiger Smith, were key players in the grassroots drive to rescue the Community Theatre–now known as MPAC–from ruin.

Even when the Foundation has been unable to provide funding, Kirby has been a vital local resource, Smith said.

“To me, his advice and counsel are insightful and invaluable. He is a great listener, a perceptive questioner, and a source of knowledge. He was the perfect leader when his dad stepped down and will be greatly missed not only by the arts community, but by everyone who worked with him,” he said.

Sponsor Dillard Kirby and library Director Chad Leinaweaver, at the 2016 Morristown Festival of Books. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

On the other side of South Street, the F.M. Kirby Foundation was a major funder of a 2006 expansion of the Morristown & Morris Township Library.

Library Director Chad Leinaweaver said the F.M. Kirby Gallery has showcased exhibitions of local artists, African American history and Civil War collections, as well as LEGO bricks and the history of board games.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey performs in the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre at Drew University in Madison.

Bonnie Monte, STNJ artistic director for 31 years, recounted how seamlessly the late Fred Kirby handed off Foundation control to his son Dillard, and said she anticipates the same will occur in this transition.

“My gratitude for S. Dillard’s Kirby service to our region, and to so many worthy organizations, including our own, knows no bounds,” Monte said.

“We are thrilled that he is staying very involved with the Foundation as he remains on the board, and we hope that he has just a bit more free time now to enjoy the many activities and people that he loves. We are so proud that our theatrical home is graced by the Kirby family name,” she said.

Leslie Bensley, executive director of the Morris County Tourism Bureau, said she felt fortunate to have landed on Dillard Kirby’s radar.

Morris County Tourism Director Leslie Bensley is flanked by honorees Pat Sanftner and Dillard Kirby, at the Morris County Tourism Bureau 2014 awards. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“When the opportunity to submit several heritage- and tourism-related projects arose, Dillard appreciated their important to Morristown, took a chance on our tiny organization and decided to fund us,” she said.

“I can’t overstate the value of his support, or how proud I am of the projects the Tourism Bureau created because of the faith he had in our work.”

(Disclosure: Dillard Kirby also was an early supporter of MorristownGreen.com.)

Festival co-sponsors Dillard and Adrienne Kirby, at the 2016 Morristown Festival of Books. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Festival co-sponsors Dillard and Adrienne Kirby, at the 2016 Morristown Festival of Books. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Dillard Kirby’s passion for local history has led to several film projects. He and his wife Adrienne personally have backed the documentaries Morristown: Where America Survived; Open Spaces & Historic Places in Morris County and Saving the Great Swamp, Battle to Defeat the Jetport.

Look for another one, based on author Mary Bruno’s Passaic River exploration, An American River, at next month’s Montclair Film Festival.  The Kirby Foundation also helped fund a provocative 2009 critique of public education, The Cartel.

Larry Fast, a producer of Saving the Great Swamp, shared a bond with Dillard Kirby. Both are alumni of Lafayette College, where Fast studied government and philosophy in the beaux arts Kirby Hall. A protagonist in the film, former Gov, Robert Meyner, also graduated from the school in Easton, PA.

Director Scott Morris, Co-Producer Larry Fast and Hans Dekker of the Community Foundation of NJ at MPAC screening of jetport movie. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Director Scott Morris, Co-Producer Larry Fast and Hans Dekker of the Community Foundation of NJ at MPAC screening of jetport movie in 2016. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Dillard and I shared the excitement of uncovering parts of our shared collegiate past during the research phases of the film,” Fast said.

As a principal funder and executive producer, Kirby made important introductions and keen suggestions, Fast said.

“His engaging personality, knowledge and understanding of what was needed to produce the documentary brought us to a very satisfying completion.”

Fast said he hopes the transition at the F.M. Kirby Foundation will allow Dillard Kirby time for more special projects that strike his fancy.

Genial and unassuming, Kirby flashed his sense of humor at the premiere of Morristown: Where America Survived.

Warming up the crowd at the Mayo Performing Arts Center, he offered a disclaimer:

“If you don’t like it, remember…it’s free!”

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