In 1946, just a year after World War II, an Iowa couple named Clifton and Margaret Musser endowed General Service Foundation with family wealth generated by timber and other industries. Clifton and Margaret never served on the board of directors. Instead, they turned the foundation’s control over to people who represented the future: their daughter Marion and her husband Glen Lloyd (Glen was also a trusted advisor), their son John Musser and his wife Elizabeth, and a family friend named Edmund Cook.

Clifton was troubled by chaotic conditions in the world but hopeful that the foundation would do some good. Knowing he couldn’t see 50 years ahead, he gave the founding board freedom to undertake whatever work they believed was important. He counseled them to respond to changing conditions, admit mistakes, keep their expectations realistic, and enjoy solving problems together.

Over seven decades, GSF has followed this advice while working toward a just and sustainable world. Although board membership has shifted many times, history shows a pattern of early investment in pivotal causes of the day. In the 1940s and ‘50s, our predecessors were already working on industrial and race relations. In the early ‘60s, reproductive health became a priority, followed by environment and peace. In practice, the work reveals a unified belief that justice connects many issues and true power is sustained by mobilizing people on the ground.

If Clifton and Margaret could look through our eyes today, they’d see great progress through the “chaos” toward a just and sustainable world.

Those principles and the Musser-Lloyd family have grown through five generations. We’ve added parents, siblings, in-laws, children, extended families, cousins and second cousins to the collaboration; and the board still includes leaders who bring fresh perspectives from outside the family. Currently our third and fourth generations lead GSF together. We’re already talking about how the fifth will become involved in our collective responsibility to this public trust.

Our exceptional staff, grantees and other partners embody thoughtful innovation, movement building, courage and bold leadership. If Clifton and Margaret could look through their eyes today, they’d see great progress through the “chaos” toward a just and sustainable world.