Dr. Bob Lea recently came to the Community Foundation of Chippewa County office wearing overalls and carrying a shovel. Expecting to get his picture taken, he picked an outfit that would illustrate his intentions. He and his wife, Cath, are planting a seedling fund with the foundation.
"It was my idea, I guess, just to give back to the community. We've had a wonderful life here in Chippewa Falls," Cath said.
Cath grew up in Chippewa Falls. The couple met while attending Carleton College in Minnesota. "Bob was looking for a place to start his medical practice. He just thought this would be a great place to do it," she said. The Leas reaped such a positive experience in Chippewa Falls that they want to sow seeds to enhance the community in the future.
They have not yet designated a specific purpose for the Bob and Cath Lea Seedling Fund, which she described as a work in progress. "We're at the point where we decided to start this fund, but give it a few years and see where it leads us," she said.
"As you're funding it, you start to find areas that maybe you're interested in or maybe you see a need. Hopefully, that cause will start to show itself. It's a little early yet; that's why it's a seedling fund. You don't start out with everything in place. You wait for the fund to grow, but you also wait for the cause to grow," Bob agreed.
Cath retired in 2016 after working for 15 years as a community resource coordinator for the Chippewa Falls School District.
In that position, she reached into the community to find guest speakers and other classroom resources. She has served on the boards of various community organizations, including the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA, the Cook-Rutledge Mansion and the Chippewa Falls Museum of Industry and Technology.
Bob is the medical director of the L.E. Phillips Libertas Treatment Center in Chippewa Falls. He also is a family practitioner, originally with Family Health Associates, which is now Prevea Health.
Cath views her grandmother, who also lived in Chippewa Falls, as an example of someone she strives to be. "She was very adamant about helping those in need and giving back to the community." She also looks to a woman who is a retired clinical psychologist at UW-Eau Claire for inspiration. The woman, who she met through her work as a community resource coordinator, is blind and is passionate about the needs of people with disabilities, she said.
Cath and Bob have three grown children. "They certainly see the value of helping others," Cath said. As much as they love Chippewa Falls, however, "we haven't been able to entice any of our kids to move back here," she said with a laugh.
"I think it's well-known that Chippewa Falls has a lot of great benefactors who have put their trust in the Community Foundation as a vehicle for everyone working together. The Community Foundation should be a source of pride for the community," Bob said.
Grants will support organizations recommended by fund advisors.