Opening Minds


The Family

The Ethel and James Flinn Foundation traces its roots three generations back to Elisha Flinn. He was born in 1843 and lived in New York State until coming to Detroit in 1865 to enter the practice of law. Elisha Flinn’s clients were companies involved in natural resources but he gradually discontinued the practice of law to enter the business of buying and selling pine timber in Michigan. He formed a partnership with his former partner under the name of Robinson and Flinn and when there was little pine timber remaining in Michigan they moved their activities to other states and later to Minnesota. Robinson and Flinn, associated with others from Michigan, purchased considerable acreage of timber land in Minnesota. In 1892 iron ore was found on their Minnesota properties and from that time until his death in 1911 Elisha Flinn’s principal business was iron ore mining in and around Eveleth, Minnesota. He was president of the Lake Superior Iron and Chemical Company, a vice president of old Detroit National Bank and a director of the Wayne County Savings Bank and the Detroit Trust Company. In 1871 he married Samantha Whitwood. Elisha and Samantha lived on Putnam Avenue in Detroit and raised two children, James H. and Mary W.

James H. Flinn married Ethel Garretson in 1906. Ethel and James raised three children, George, Ethel “Peggy” W. and James “Jim” H. Jr. It was Ethel and James who set the course for the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation.

Peggy Flinn with her cousin and her lawyer established the foundation in 1976. Her intent was to remember her parents, Ethel and James and her brother, Jim Flinn, Jr. and to consolidate and direct the families’ philanthropy toward the purposes already expressed by her parents in their trusts documents; “research into the causes and/or research into the treatment of nervous and mental diseases.” Peggy graduated from Columbia Presbyterian College of Nursing in New York as a registered nurse and was a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross during World War II. She was particularly interested in children and was a longtime and life member of the Board of Trustees of Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Her life passion was horses. She owned, road and showed champion horses throughout the country. She was a life member of the American Horseshow Association. She provided initial funding to the Foundation during her lifetime and left an endowment to the Foundation upon her death in 1994.

Jim Flinn, Jr. attended Princeton and Babson University. He was afflicted with schizophrenia in his early 20’s and following the death of his father in 1952 resided for the rest of his adult life at the St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The caregivers at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital provided a unique, close, caring and supportive environment that contributed to Jim’s long life and to his good quality of life. Jim’s interests were many and varied; reading, history, University of Michigan football, movies, gardening, bike riding and traveling. Helping the disadvantaged and philanthropy were of special interest to him. In later years he made substantial contributions to the Foundation and to charities generally. Upon Jim’s death all of the Flinn’s interests were transferred to the Foundation leaving as a legacy a philanthropic foundation that will improve the lives of children, adolescents and adults with mental illness.

The Organization

The Ethel and James Flinn Foundation was established in 1976 by Ethel W. (“Peggy”) Flinn to remember her parents Ethel G. and James H. Flinn and her brother, James “Jim” H. Flinn, Jr. and to provide a means for family philanthropy. The Foundation was originally established as a charitable nonprofit corporation under Michigan laws and Section 501(c)(3) and 509(a)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code but was reclassified in 2005 a private foundation under Section 501(c)(3). The Foundation received additional asset in 2007 upon the passing of the last family member Jim H. Flinn, Jr.

As the Flinn Family was dedicated to finding causes of mental illness and to improving mental health treatment, the foundation’s governing instruments state that the endowment is to be held “…for the support of research into the causes and/or research into the treatment of nervous and mental diseases or, or for the specific programs or activities of the above beneficiaries…”. Prior to her death, Peggy expressed her desire that the foundation become more involved in improving treatment programs and services for the mentally ill. Grantmaking was then directed toward research into, and evaluation of, the treatment of mental illnesses. Grants were made to the supported organizations named in the governing instruments. As a result of the reorganization in 2005 and the receipt of unrestricted assets upon Jim Flinn, Jr.’s death, the foundation is now able to support programs and activities of non-profit organizations that deliver mental health care and services as well as the named supported organizations.

The Future

With increased assets in 2007, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees developed a transition plan to guide operations of the Foundation. The founding President, Leonard W. Smith, became Chair of the Board and Chief Investment Officer. The Foundation expanded its staff and hired Andrea M. Cole as the Executive Director. The Foundation then underwent a process to determine how best to invest its limited resources. Foundation staff held a series of meetings with numerous governmental, public and private mental providers and general health organization across southeast Michigan to assess the most pressing issues in the field, with the goal of identifying critical areas in which the Foundation could have a significant impact.