The Gheens Foundation, Inc. was established in 1957 by C. Edwin and Mary Jo Gheens, to continue their lifelong interests in education, religious programs, and human services. Mr. Gheens, a Louisville native whose father and uncle were successful in the wholesale grocery business, was the owner of a large, successful candy manufacturing company in Louisville. The family also owned a large plantation in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Gheens were leaders in their church and active in other philanthropic, educational, and cultural endeavors in Louisville. After Mr. Gheens’ death in 1961, Mrs. Gheens selected several friends to serve as Foundation Trustees. The trustees continued to oversee the work of the Foundation after her death in 1982.
The Gheens Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in Kentucky. The Trustees oversee approximately $4 million in grants annually. Most of the grants are made in the Louisville area and support a wide variety of endeavors, including public education, economic development, medical, the arts, and social/health services.
In 1982, the Foundation, in partnership with the Jefferson County Public Schools, established the Gheens Academy, a resource center providing professional training for teachers and administrators.
In 2008, the Foundation made a grant to create the Gheens Institute within the Academy, a laboratory to foster innovation in urban public education. Other major investments by the Foundation include the STARS Club for at-risk middle school boys and girls, the University of Louisville’s Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, Metro United Way’s Gheens Bridges to Tomorrow, Bellarmine University, the Parklands of Floyds Fork and Every 1 Reads.