On a bright and sunny spring day, we sat down with Mort Mortenson, past Chairman of M. A. Mortenson Company, at their Golden Valley offices to reflect on his family’s approach to supporting the community. Kind, genuine, and quick to focus on the good work of others, Mort expressed great joy as he shared stories and inspirational moments from his life, work and family—always showing an admiration and appreciation for the important contributions of those around him. With a view of the urban forest in Wirth Park looking back toward the Minneapolis skyline, embedded with stadiums and buildings whose construction bears his family’s name, Mort painted the picture of a lifetime of community involvement. Involvement that is rooted in his and his wife, Alice’s, faith and the values they’ve shared with their close-knit family and their fiercely loyal workforce: altruism, service to community, and sustainability. These are values that they live out each and every day through volunteering, leading, inspiring, and giving.
In 2009, their gift of $1,000,000 to the endowment at Greater Twin Cities United Way, was the largest outright gift dedicated to the endowment by living benefactors. When asked why giving to the endowment was the right fit for them, Mort expressed that their entire philosophy is future oriented—with an eye toward improving the community and the world for generations to come. It was this mindset, shared by many of their peers, that served as a springboard for United Way to launch a $35 million campaign focused on endowment and estate gifts in honor of United Way’s centennial year in 2015. Both Alice and Mort have volunteered their time and leadership skills on numerous non-profit boards and committees, including now serving as Centennial Honorary Chairs for United Way’s 100 year anniversary. Since its inception in 2011, more than 80 loyal supporters made new gifts and estate commitments for endowment toward the Centennial Campaign. And, United Way’s Legacy Society has swelled to 292 members.
Leading By Example
Alice and Mort truly lead by example, and have successfully passed the value of volunteerism and service along to their four sons who, along with their wives, take an active role in the Mortenson Family Foundation. Further, son David and daughter-in-law Kate are chairing United Way’s Centennial Volunteer United community-wide engagement project. These values are also woven into the culture of Mortenson Construction, which Mort built from a small family business to one that has achieved the vision of building all of the major sports facilities in the Twin Cities. And yet, when asked to share how their family got to this point, Mort credits Alice as being the beacon for their family’s community involvement—fostering a dedication to service and support in their four sons from an early age. “I attribute it all to Alice—she has been the driving force in our family,” Mort said. “I’m so grateful for what she has done to give our sons values and a commitment to taking care of our community.”
United by familial bonds and a shared purpose, when the Mortensons meet each year to discuss the plans for their Foundation, in addition to reviewing proposals, the family takes time to read a meaningful poem, adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson, entitled “Further Advice from a Father’s Heart.” Mort considers the poem the essence of their family philosophy—offering guidance and grounding as they approach their shared philanthropic efforts. “And that’s what we want to introduce our grandchildren to,” says Mort. The Foundation “brings the family together with a common purpose and a common endeavor, which has really been fun for us and very rewarding.”