Like a Good Neighbor: An Insurance Veteran Focuses on Education

Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

Rex W. Bates spent more than 25 years at State Farm Insurance Company, serving as director of management planning and information. Prior to his long career in business, though, he worked in independent education as a history teacher, dorm parent and coach at Shattuck-St. Mary's School a coeducational boarding school in Minnesota. And in 2008, he returned to independent education as director of business development at Annie Wright Schools, a private school in Tacoma.

The Bates Family Foundation, started by Bates’ late father Jim, strongly prioritizes education in its grantmaking, particularly secondary education. I recently spoke with Bates to get a better understanding of this low-profile charity and its interests.

Like the story of many foundations, family legacy looms large. The late Jim Bates joined the investment firm Stein Roe & Farnham and then worked at State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company for many years, retiring in 1991 as mutual company vice chairman. The Wall Street Journal once called him the "Lone Ranger of investing.” Away from business, he also engaged in philanthropic and civic life, including serving on the board of Illinois Wesleyan University and the Brookings Institution. “Our entire family was involved in education in some capacity most of our lives and careers,” Bates explains.

The foundation has no website no formal mission statement, but Bates tells me grantmaking is limited to educational and scientific purposes. Most giving is centered around scholarships and financial aid. University of Washington School of Medicine is home to the Bates Family - Paul G. Ramsey M.D. Endowed Scholarship in Medicine.

Grantmaking has also touched University of Chicago, Jim’s alma mater; Whitman College; Anne Wright School and St. Paul School where his daughters went; and Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, his own school. Bates tells me he and his wife Angela want to “provide scholarships for those who haven’t been as lucky. We cover their tuition and help them out.”

The Bates Family Foundation also earmarks funds for arts and cultural organizations, but that is not a main focus. "We’ve always felt the need to help organizations in the communities in which we live and that provide some balance and social benefit,” he says. The family has supported places like Museum of Glass, Symphony Tacoma, and Port Angeles Symphony. “We really look at struggling arts organizations for which donations can make a difference,” he adds.

Large grants from this foundation are rare and most donations are in the $10,000 to $20,000 range. About $1.2 million went out of the door in a recent tax year. The foundation is open to contact, but Bates tells me interested grantseekers should begin with a letter before going through the hassle of a full application to make sure there’s a fit.