Editorial | Simeon Chapin’s legacy continues to serve Myrtle Beach area

Simeon Brooks Chapin, the visionary developer who saw the potential of Myrtle Beach long before a municipality was established, set up a foundation in 1943 to help finance a public library, a YMCA, a hospital and church-related charities or projects. Over the years, the Chapin Foundation has distributed about $19 million to many Myrtle Beach area entities.

For years, the foundation operated out of the Chapin Company. Then-Chapin president Harold Clardy saw the need for an executive director of the foundation and Claire “Cookie’’ Sprouse was hired in 2001. She is the gatekeeper for foundation board members, who make quarterly grants. In 2013, foundation grants totaled just a few dollars under $500,000.

The Myrtle Beach foundation is one of four Chapin started in 1943, in places where he and his wife had homes. The others are in Chicago, his hometown; Lake Geneva, Wis.; and Pinehurst, N.C. Today, because of the nature of the types of capital investment -- stocks, real estate, insurance -- the Myrtle Beach foundation is by far the wealthiest of the four, Sprouse says.

A fascinating example explaining the situation of the Myrtle Beach foundation: in the original capital investment, now providing dividends, oceanfront propety was valued at $1.28 an acre. “That would buy a few grains of sand’’ today, Sprouse says.

“He was a brilliant man -- who understood people and human nature,’’ Sprouse says of Chapin. “That’s why he set up foundations to give through organized churches, which set up charities run by church members.”

In the 1943 foundation organization, he set up future funding for a public library that bears the Chapin name and the YMCA named for Claire Chapin Epps, a great-granddaughter of Simeon B. Chapin. The first YMCA was built in the 1980s; the present location opened a few years ago.

The library was constructed in the 1950s and is the only municipal library in South Carolina. City leaders have been discussing the facility’s future, including allowing it to be merged with the Horry County library system. They also discussed, but later put aside, a plan that would have called for users to pay a $125 annual subscription fee.

Foundation grants are limited to the city limits of Myrtle Beach and one mile beyond. The expansion of Myrtle Beach has grown the reach of the foundation. “It’s making my job more interesting,’’Sprouse says.

If the location of a charity seeking a grant precludes help from the Chapin Foundation, Sprouse tries to steer it to other sources, such as civic clubs. If the Chapin Foundation can help, Sprouse checks out all applications. “Giving money is a very difficult job -- vetting is important.’’

She has been active in the S.C. Association of Nonprofit Organizations which provides training and consulting services for a variety of nonprofits. The Chapin Foundation has joined with the Waccamaw Community Foundation and the United Way of Horry County for training.

“A lot of what I’ve done is build capacity,’’ Sprouse says, showing nonprofits how to recruit volunteers, be connected to certified public accountants to ensure proper handling of finances, having transparency -- in short, being good stewards.

“We really don’t like to be the lead gift’’ for capital projects. “We like to give the community an opportunity to support [a major project]. Mr. Chapin and our board liked to stand in the gap’’ -- provide the funds still needed after the community has raised money.

Thirty or more Myrtle Beach churches of many denominations have received grants, including one to replace a leaky baptistry. The library received $2.25 million from 1994 through 2009, including $1.5 million for general collection books, although the foundation no longer provides funds for books. Another grant will support a summer children’s program at the Myrtle Beach Art Museum.

Simeon Chapin died in 1945 but his philanthropic legacy continues through the foundation and should serve as an example for future philanthropists.