Cooper Foundation Celebrates 90 Years of Community Support

Monday, January 8, 2024

Lincoln, NE – In 2024 the Cooper Foundation celebrates 90 years of grantmaking to support community needs in Lincoln and throughout Nebraska.

Our founder Joseph H. Cooper, a Jewish immigrant, worked in a variety of capacities in New York City’s movie theatres in the early days of cinema and went on to develop the Cooper Theatres in Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado. After purchasing theaters in Lincoln, Nebraska, he made this city the center of his theater activities. He created the Cooper Foundation in 1934 and co-located the office with the Cooper Theatres.

From the day he created the Foundation until his death in 1946, Joe Cooper donated proceeds from his movie theater interests to fund the gifts of the Foundation. In 1937, the Foundation’s bank balance was just under $38,000 and we made our first grants that year totaling $5,000.

Upon his death, he left the Cooper Theatres to the Foundation. The Trustees managed and grew the business for over 30 years for the sole purpose of building the Foundation’s assets and increasing our grants.

Since the Foundation was established, it has given over $29 million to support organizations, programs, and projects in the arts and humanities, civic and community engagement, community improvement, education, the environment, and human services. Mr. Cooper’s success in business and foresight in creating the Cooper Foundation are the key building blocks that underpin our work today.

Board Chair Art Thompson reflected, “Over the years we have seen that the most important factor is the people involved. Those who have the spark of an idea, the drive to realize it, the wisdom to gather with others who can help, and those who carry on the vision to build institutions that are essential to the fabric of our community.”

Cooper Foundation President Victoria Grasso said, “Mr. Cooper would be very proud to know how his initial investments have helped our community grow and flourish. Over this year we will highlight stories including Mr. Cooper’s immigrant journey, the growth of the Cooper Theatres, the development of the Cooper Foundation, and signature projects, special grants, and collaborative initiatives that illustrate the foundation’s rich history.”

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