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The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust

By Steve Pawlowski “To help people in need, especially women, children, and families; to protect animals and nature; and to enrich community life in the metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Indianapol…

By Steve Pawlowski

“To help people in need, especially women, children, and families; to protect animals and nature; and to enrich community life in the metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Indianapolis”.

That’s the mission of the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, and the mantra of the big-hearted, empathetic, and progressive-thinking woman for which it’s named.

Nina Mason Pulliam grew up in a farming family that included six girls, one boy, and plenty of animals. Early on, she discovered her love of reading, writing, nature and the outdoors. She

rode her pony, often carrying a sidearm for protection, to the one-room schoolhouse in the rural southern Indiana countryside where her oldest sister, Grace, was the teacher.

As a 6th grader, Nina joined her older brother going into town to take a qualifying test for high school. To keep her busy, they gave her the test and she passed – jumping from 6th grade directly to high school!

She learned that she could do whatever she set out to do, and to draw strength from within to meet any challenge. Nina first came to Arizona alone as a teenager in the 1920s, after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. She lived in a cabin at the base of Camelback Mountain, where riding horses and playing with her dog in the warm, dry climate improved her condition.

Her adventurous spirit took her on a 40-day excursion to New Zealand and Australia when very few people traveled to the other side of the world.

Along the way, a young aboriginal prince asked for her hand in marriage, but was disappointed when she declined and returned to the United States. Nina entered the business world as a secretary and was described as having an accountant’s eye with a journalist’s mind. She soon met and married Gene Pulliam. Together they grew one newspaper in Lebanon, Indiana, into a national newspaper corporation, which included The Arizona Republic and The Indianapolis Star, the two largest dailies in Phoenix and Indianapolis.

While Gene took time off to golf, Nina learned to fly – becoming the first woman in Indiana to earn a pilot’s license. They were among the first Americans to visit and write about post-World War II Europe.

Nina was a wordsmith. She was published in newspapers throughout North America and her articles compiled into seven books. She was also the first woman admitted to Sigma Delta Chi, now the Society of Professional Journalists. When Gene died, she became President and CEO of Central Newspapers, Inc. and served as publisher of all the newspapers it operated, until her retirement in 1979.

When she passed in 1997, at 91, her assets of $400 million went into an irrevocable charitable trust to benefit her home states of Arizona and Indiana for 50 years. The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust celebrates Nina’s legacy and supports the causes she held closest to her heart.

“Nina said to me many times that you need to give back to your community in a big way,” said her niece, Carol Peden Schilling, Trust chair. “She practiced that because she deeply believed it.”

Community Impact –

Since its inception in 1998, the Trust has become a lead funder in animal welfare initiatives in Phoenix and Indianapolis, aimed at reducing the number of unwanted dogs and cats by increasing spay and neuter surgeries, adoptions, and public education on responsible pet ownership. From a particular series of programs in 2012 – 2016, the Trust contributed more than $3.6 million to animal welfare organizations in Maricopa County.

“The homeless pet overpopulation epidemic in Arizona and across the country remains a big challenge,” said Michael Mendel, Trust program officer. “Through support of the Fix.Adopt.Save. campaign (FAS), the intake of homeless pets in Maricopa County was reduced by more than 47,000 animals between 2012 and 2016, but the County population is expanding westward and there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

The Trust continues to focus its efforts on helping to turn off the spigot of the homeless pet overpopulation by supporting a stronger spay/neuter message, adoption and vaccination programs, and education about responsible pet ownership. In June, during its first round of giving in 2017, the Trust committed an additional $741,500 to animal welfare organizations in Maricopa County.

“Our animal welfare initiative, Fix.Adopt.Save. in Arizona, and a similar program in Indiana, experienced unprecedented decreases in euthanasia (71 and 65 percent, respectively, over five years) and ongoing, upward trends in spay/neuter surgeries,” said Lisa Shover Kackley, trustee. “The way to continue to save the lives of animals is to always combine spay/neuter with adoption. This model, which has changed the animal welfare landscape in Phoenix and Indianapolis, can be replicated nationwide.”

Most recently, the Trust awarded $40,000 in grant funds to Code 3 Associates in support of its efforts to rescue and transport domestic animals displaced by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. The reach of the Trust’s life-saving support goes well beyond our fourlegged, domesticated friends, however.

Last year, the Trust helped to rescue the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center when the renowned facility, serving animals that would not survive in the wild, was threatened with its own extinction by a disgruntled neighbor. It also works closely with the Phoenix Herpetological Society, supporting its educational, rescue, and rehabilitation efforts.

In 2001, the Trust established the Nina Mason Pulliam Legacy Scholars program to open doors of opportunity for men and women seeking college degrees. The program is dedicated to providing educational opportunities for nontraditional college students. The Trust provides critical support services and financial assistance to help scholars achieve their education goals in spite of physical, personal or financial challenges. And earlier this year, the Trust provided a grant to environmental newspaper reporters in Arizona and Indiana, enabling them to take a deep dive into important issues that might otherwise go unreported because of budget restrictions.

Grant Funding –

Nina loved animals – domesticated and wild – and the natural environment. She sought ways to encourage human bonds with both. “She adored animals and they somehow recognized that spirit and adored her,” said Schilling.

To honor that spirit, the Trust supports organizations that provide humane and wellness services for domestic animals; promote conservation of natural habitats and ecosystems; and provide environmental education and awareness. In keeping with Nina’s wishes, the Trust only accepts requests from charitable organizations located in and serving the metropolitan areas of Phoenix, Arizona and Indianapolis, Indiana, with the exception of environmental requests. For those requests, the Trust will consider applications from charitable organizations throughout both states, if the project has statewide impact.

The first step in the process is a conversation and, if invited, the submittal of an online Letter of Intent. This is the starting point even if organizations have applied for or previously received a Trust grant. Grantees must complete an entire grant year and file a final grant report prior to reapplying.

When applying for a grant from the Trust, Mendel suggests nonprofits ask themselves specific questions, “What are your outcomes? How can we help you fulfill your mission? Demonstrating the impact your organization has on the community only makes your story more compelling. We’re not just funders. We offer strategic guidance, advice, and collaboration to help strengthen and sustain the vital organizations that serve our communities.”

By all accounts, Nina would be happy and proud of the impact her legacy continues to have on our community. The Trust is a nimble, flexible organization that addresses causes and needs and reflects her good heart. They make investments in people, animals and the environment which will bear fruit for decades to come.

“She never forgot what it was like to want or need something,” said Kackley. “She always shared her material things. Nina may have been small in stature, but she was, and continues to be, a powerful force.”

Did you know?

  • In the 1960s, Nina’s influence kept the Valley skyline and view corridors from being obstructed by the high-rise, stacked freeway systems made popular in LA.

  • She stopped homebuilding from reaching the top of Camelback Mountain, and helped establish a “no-development” zone, thus preserving the mountain’s beautiful profile.

  • She led the effort to name the Cactus Wren Arizona’s state bird.

  • Through her support of preservation efforts by the Phoenix Zoo, she was responsible for keeping the African Oryx, a desert antelope, from extinction.

  • Additional information about the NMPCT and its programs is available at

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