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As chair of the Sahara Coal Company and trustee of the Woods Charitable Fund, Inc., Frank H. Woods combined his business interests with his philanthropic concerns to establish a charitable force that continues even today.

In 1941, his parents Frank H. Woods, Sr. and Nelle Cochrane Woods founded the Woods Charitable Fund. From a small operation with humble beginnings, the Woods Charitable Fund would later grow immensely under the trusteeship of Frank Woods, Jr. The younger Woods spent decades leading the Sahara Coal Company—but his first love was always nurturing the philanthropy of the Woods Charitable Fund.

Coal magnate Frank H. Woods, Jr. built a philanthropic legacy-with a focus on energy conservation

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“Primarily I was concerned with the social welfare programs that affected this city,” Woods recalled. “I got involved with the School of Social Work at The University of Chicago. It was about this time I heard about the good work that The Chicago Community Trust was doing.” Woods soon became close friends with James Brown IV.

“Frank was especially interested in the organization of giving,” said Hermon Dunlap Smith, former chair of the Trust’s Executive Committee. “He took a very active role in the National Committee for Foundations and Trusts for Community Welfare—the precursor to Council on Foundations—founded by Edward L. Ryerson in 1949. His involvement went beyond his own charitable fund into the whole foundation field and the legislation surrounding its operations.”

Mrs. Wilmer Shields Rich, then head of the National Council on Community Foundations, persuaded Woods to head the Council’s membership committee. As Mrs. Rich recalled, “When a significant number of family foundations joined us, it became obvious that there were more of them than the community trusts, so we changed the name to the Council on Foundations.”

“Retire? I don’t have to. I plan to do just what I’m doing now, running the Fund, and when I can’t do that anymore, I know The Chicago Community Trust will do it for us.”

Woods was an early proponent of annual reports for foundations, creating greater transparency for the work they were doing. “One thing I did was to urge members to publish some kind of report. ‘Come out in the open,’ I challenged them,” recounted Woods. “‘Tell people what you are doing and why!’ We were one of the first to publish a report in 1960. Nobody knew anything about [the foundation field], but we were one of the very foundations that anybody knew anything about!”

Woods and his wife Louise (Brewer) Woods maintained two different funds at the Trust during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, both of which supported Trust initiatives on energy conservation.

While he was still working, Woods summarized his attitude toward retirement: “Retire? I don’t have to. I plan to do just what I’m doing now, running the Fund, and when I can’t do that anymore, I know The Chicago Community Trust will do it for us.”

“The needs of the Chicago metropolitan area are not only going to continue, but probably expand. There’s still plenty of good places to put good money to work.”