By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published August 10, 2010
Virginia and James Conrads believed in the importance of Catholic education—for their own children and for others in their community. Now, thanks to a generous gift, children in the Archdiocese of Atlanta will be receiving faith-based education for generations to come.
In July, with a $7 million gift to the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia, Inc., the charitable remainder trust of the Conrads established The Conrads Family Education Fund. It is the largest single gift in the history of the Catholic Foundation and will support Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Nancy Coveny, executive director of the Catholic Foundation, said the gift is part of the Conrads’ lifelong dedication to charitable giving.
“The Conrads gave to most of the Catholic schools in the archdiocese during their lifetime, and this gift from their charitable remainder trust will ensure that the Catholic schools in our archdiocese can continue to be supported into perpetuity,” she said.
Both natives of St. Louis, James was a veteran of World War II, who married Virginia, a former ballet dancer for the St. Louis Municipal Opera. Virginia, who was better known as Jinny, converted to Catholicism when she and James got engaged. The couple had five children. For years, James, who went by Jim, worked in the burlap bag industry—first in the mailroom—and later working his way up the ladder.
The family moved to Chicago in 1951 when Jim became sales manager for Central Bag & Burlap. In 1954, the family moved to Gainesville, Ga., where Jim opened a new branch.
But noticing the decline in the burlap bag industry, he opened Steel Products Co. in Atlanta to supply the building industry with formed steel. In the early 1980s, Reliance Steel of California bought Steel Products.
While Jim built his company, Jinny established the family as faithful and giving Catholics. After moving to Atlanta, the Conrads children attended Immaculate Heart of Mary School.
Karen Wibell, the oldest of the Conrads children, said that her parents worked hard to make sure their children received an excellent education.
“Since Dad had attended Catholic schools in St. Louis, I think he intrinsically recognized the value of a Catholic education. Our parents did not inherit money; they worked hard and sacrificed much to provide this for their family,” she said. “Perhaps this choice reflected a belief that attending Catholic schools would deepen our faith, instill shared values, and provide a quality education.”
Both Jinny and Jim were involved in many facets of the archdiocese. Both were active founding members of the Serra Club, and both were inducted into the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. After buying a farm in Rutledge, the couple helped to establish St. James Church in Madison. Jim was active on parish councils in Gainesville and at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
“As Mom and Dad’s wealth grew, it was natural to support the Catholic schools which had been instrumental in educating and molding their children,” Wibell said. “With children grown and
Dad retired, our parents were able to attend daily Mass and became involved in church organizations, especially the Serra Club. Strong relationships were built over the years with a number of priests, especially those that played golf,” Wibell said, noting her father was an avid fan and golfer.
To continue their commitment to giving to the less fortunate of their community, the couple later established The Conrads Family Fund of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to provide grants to charitable organizations.
“Our parents believed that the more you give, the more you receive. In addition to Catholic schools, they generously supported Catholic churches and organizations as well as many community and civic nonprofits,” Wibell said.
Among them was the Justice Center of Atlanta, where Jinny became a volunteer mediator in 1979. She mediated a wide range of cases involving business, family and neighborhood disputes for many years and she provided support to the Justice Center long after her health required her to stop volunteering as a mediator.
Jinny died in 2009, and her husband died a year later in May 2010. But their children were determined to continue their parents’ great tradition of philanthropy. The Conrads Family Education Fund will continue to support one of their greatest passions—the education of young Catholics.
“My brothers and sisters and I use the word legacy often. This gift to the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia will establish the Conrads Family Education Fund, a special legacy that reflects our parents’ unwavering faith and quiet commitment to give back to their faith community,” Wibell said.
All archdiocesan and private Catholics schools in North Georgia are eligible for grants from the fund. The Conrads Family Education Fund will be managed through the Catholic Foundation’s grants process and grants will be approved by the Foundation’s Grants Committee, said Coveny.
Catholic schools wishing to receive a grant application may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.