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The Most Impactful Families in America

These 25 families are quietly making major contributions to the country and their communities.

The Frist Family Nashville, Tenn.

Patricia C. Frist and Thomas Frist Jr.

How They Created Their Wealth: Though Nashville’s reputation on a national and international stage tends to revolve around country music (and bachelorette parties), its healthcare industry is a quiet powerhouse. That’s largely thanks to HCA Healthcare (previously known as Hospital Corporation of America), the for-profit healthcare system that was launched in 1968 and manages 185 hospitals and 119 surgery centers across the U.S. and UK. Founded by Nashville physician Thomas Frist Sr., his physician son Thomas Frist Jr. and Kentucky Fried Chicken owner Jack Massey, HCA is now a public company that brings in $46 billion in revenue annually.

Their Impact: The Frist family is known for its community involvement and public service. “From its inception, there was a culture of giving back at HCA, and it has been gratifying to see that culture spread into the Nashville community and create an even greater impact than what our family could do alone,” says Thomas Frist Jr., whose brother Bill Frist served two terms in the U.S. Senate. Through its Frist Foundation, the family supports legions of nonprofits across Nashville and middle Tennessee, among them the United Way, the Nashville Zoo, the Frist Art Museum and Vanderbilt University. “Seeing students graduate from schools and universities that we have supported has been gratifying,” Frist says. “Watching them thrive afterwards and give back to the community is even more so.”

The Hall Family Kansas City, Mo.

How They Created Their Wealth: Outside of the Kansas City area, you’d be hard-pressed to find people who know who the Hall family is. But its company—Hallmark—is another story. What Joyce Hall started as a small card company in Kansas City in 1910 is now a massive retail, greeting card and television enterprise with 30,000 employees and $4 billion in annual revenue.

Their Impact: In the 1940s, Hallmark debuted the slogan that has been associated with the brand ever since—“When you care enough to send the very best.” Decades later, the ethos behind that slogan drives the Hall family, and its foundation, to demonstrate a deep concern for the community where it got its start. “‘When you care enough’ was more than a corporate slogan to Joyce Hall—it was a philosophy that extended beyond his business to his community,” says Bill Hall, president of the Hall Family Foundation (though they share a last name, this Hall is not a family member). “This philosophy continues today through the Hall Family Foundation, which he and his wife established 75 years ago, and whose purpose is to help people and enhance the quality of life in Kansas City.”

The Steward Family St. Louis

David Steward

How They Created Their Wealth: David Steward was born in Chicago in 1951 before moving to the St. Louis area, where he grew up and started his career. In 1990, he founded World Wide Technology, a global systems information company headquartered in Maryland Heights, Mo., which now has more than 5,000 employees worldwide. WWT does about $11 billion in annual revenue and works with 70 percent of the companies on the Fortune 100. Nearly 30 years after its founding, Steward remains chair of the board.

David Steward II and Kimberly Steward. Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

Their Impact:  Steward, his wife, Thelma, and children, David II and Kimberly—an Oscar-nominated producer whose projects include Manchester by the Sea—are fixtures on the St. Louis philanthropy scene through the World Wide Technology Foundation and the Steward Family Foundation. Driven by a love of jazz, the Stewards established the David and Thelma Steward Institute for Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri St. Louis and the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center, which houses Jazz St. Louis and is named after David’s parents. This type of personal connection to the causes they support is a theme for the family: David Steward II and his wife, Mary, created the Steward Family Perinatal Behavioral Health Service Fund at the Washington University School of Medicine to provide access to mental health resources for uninsured or underinsured women dealing with postpartum depression, from which Mary herself suffered following the birth of her first child.

The Linde Family Boston

Founder Ed Linde, 1998. Photo by Pam Berry/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

How They Created Their Wealth: Edward Linde graduated from MIT and Harvard Business School before founding Boston Properties with Mort Zuckerman in 1970. Together, they established East Cambridge as a tech hub, matching MIT and Harvard scientists with companies like Google and Novartis. Linde also developed key Boston office towers such as the Prudential Center. Linde was succeeded as president of Boston Properties by his son, Douglas, and died in 2010.

Doug Linde of Boston Properties at the company’s offices, 2012. Photo by Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Their Impact: Linde and his wife, Joyce, became hugely influential givers to cultural, educational and medical institutions such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Jobs for Massachusetts, WGBH, Boston World Partnership, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, MIT, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. In 2017, Boston magazine wrote that the press-averse family “is low-key about its multimillion-dollar giving, but actions speak louder than words. The foundation left its mark on Boston with the $12.5 million contemporary art wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, for which it was the main donor.” Recognizing the Lindes’ support for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood in 2019 named its new $40 million performance and educational facility the Linde Center for Music and Learning.

The Haas Family San Francisco

Haas Jr. Fund Founders Walter (left) and Evie

How They Created Their Wealth: Levi Strauss, a Bavarian immigrant credited with inventing blue jeans in 1873 who had no children, left his eponymous, San Francisco-based company to his nephews, whose last name was Stern. In 1914, Elise Stern, the grandniece of Strauss, married Walter A. Haas Sr., and their descendants ran the company until 1999, expanding into 110 countries.

From left: Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund directors Elise Haas, Robert D. Haas, Betsy Haas Eisenhardt, Walter A. Haas III, Jesse Eisenhardt and Walter J. Haas

Their Impact: The family is deeply committed to progressive social issues and the Bay Area. In 1952, Walter A. Haas Sr. and Elise Stern Haas created the Walter & Elise Haas Fund to support the arts, economic security, education, Jewish life and social welfare causes in and around San Francisco. A year later, Walter Jr. and his wife, Evelyn, created the Haas Jr. Foundation, which focuses on immigrant rights, gay and lesbian issues, education equity, leadership initiatives and community partnerships. Since its founding, the Haas Jr. Fund has given grants totaling $601 million. Last year, it gave $23.8 million in grants, and the Haas Sr. Fund distributed approximately $12.2 million. “My great-great-granduncle, Levi Strauss, came to San Francisco over 150 years ago and, within a year of founding his business, he made a donation to a local charitable organization. Generations of our family have continued the traditions,” says Robert D. Haas, chairman emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co. and board member of the Haas, Jr. Fund. “Impactful philanthropy involves taking risks. One of the things that inhibits people from taking risks is worrying about all the eyes that are on them and how people might judge us as philanthropists, particularly if we step out of convention. But sometimes we forget that those eyes may be looking at us for inspiration.”

The Haas Family Philadelphia

How They Created Their Wealth: Otto Haas arrived in Philadelphia from his native Germany in 1909 to expand his company, Rohm and Haas, which had developed an agent for tanning leather; it would eventually grow into a massive chemical manufacturer. Otto’s wife, Phoebe Waterman, who earned a PhD in astronomy in 1913, was one of the first American women in space research. The couple’s sons, John and F. Otto, both held executive roles in the company, which the family sold in 2009 to Dow Chemical.

William Penn Foundation board, 2017

Their Impact: The Haas family has been helping their adopted city of Philadelphia since 1945, when Otto Haas created what became the William Penn Foundation to address postwar social issues. The family also endowed the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. In addition to setting up the William Penn Foundation, family members created the Stoneleigh Foundation, which advocates for change in Philadelphia’s juvenile justice, child welfare, education and health systems, and the Wyncote Foundation, which supports efforts to strengthen and enrich culture, community and the natural environment. In 2018, the William Penn Foundation granted $115 million and Stoneleigh, $1.7 million. In 2017, Wyncote gave away $32 million.

The Henderson Perdue Family Cambridge, Mass., and Salisbury, Md.

The Henderson Perdue family

How They Created Their Wealth: Entrepreneur Mitzi Henderson Perdue’s father, Ernest, whose family created the Henderson Estate Co. in 1840, cofounded the Sheraton Hotel chain in 1937. Mitzi Henderson Perdue, who came into her inheritance at 26, is also the widow of late poultry magnate Frank Perdue, whose father founded Perdue Farms in 1920. In 1974, she created Ceres Farms, a family-owned agricultural real estate investment company, whose vineyards sell grapes to Mondavi and other major wineries. Her son, Carlos Alberto Ayala, runs the company.

Their Impact: A human rights activist, Henderson Perdue is spearheading the January 2021 Global Anti-Trafficking Auction with Christie’s, eBay and Alibaba. The George B. Henderson Foundation, named for her uncle, grants $400,000 annually toward efforts to improve Boston’s public spaces. The Perdue Foundation, established in 1957, awards some $3 million each year to organizations fighting hunger and poverty, promoting better educational resources, improving the environment and enhancing agriculture. “People sometimes ask me, what has enabled the Henderson family and the Perdue family to stay together across multiple generations? I believe the answer is philanthropy,” says Henderson Perdue. “Philanthropy gives a family a sense of identity. Frank Perdue said in his ethical will, ‘If you want to be happy, think about what you can do for someone else. If you want to be miserable, think about what’s owed to you.’”  

The Soffer Family Miami

Jackie Soffer (far left), Don Soffer, Michele King Soffer and Craig Robins. Photo by Seth Browarnik/Worldredeye.com

How They Created Their Wealth: Family patriarch and real estate developer Don Soffer founded Turnberry Associates in 1967, transforming southern Florida swampland into the city of Aventura. Since then, Turnberry has developed more than $10 billion worth of commercial and residential property. Don’s daughter Jackie Soffer, who leads Turnberry now, is overseeing the redevelopment of Aventura Mall, which draws 30 million annual visitors; developing an 800-key hotel in the Miami Beach Convention Center district in partnership with Terra Group and David Martin; and collaborating with LeFrak on Solé Mia, a 184-acre residential and commercial mixed-use North Miami project.

Their Impact: In 2015, the Soffer family made a $25 million donation to the University of Miami’s Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, which was renamed the Don Soffer Clinical Research Center. In 2008, Donald Soffer made a $15 million donation to Brandeis University, the largest in the school’s history. Jackie Soffer supports the SEED School of Miami, Voices for Children Foundation, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, and Overtown Youth Center. With her husband, real estate developer Craig Robins, Jackie Soffer has also donated more than 200 works of art to the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

The Ilitch Family Detroit

How They Created Their Wealth: Starting with a small, suburban Detroit restaurant in 1959, Michael Ilitch and his wife, Marian, built the Little Caesars Pizza chain into an empire, then expanded into sports and real estate. The family owns the Detroit Red Wings hockey team, baseball’s Detroit Tigers, the Olympia Entertainment sports management company, Detroit’s Fox Theatre and the MotorCity Casino. The Ilitch family also developed the District Detroit, an ambitious $2.8 billion downtown revitalization project, encompassing sports and  entertainment venues as well as retail, residential and office space. In 2018, the Ilitch companies had a total combined revenue of $3.8 billion.

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Their Impact: Fiercely devoted to Detroit, the family and their companies have donated and granted $190 million since 2000. In 1985, they created Little Caesars Love Kitchen, a mobile restaurant that provides meals to victims of natural disasters. Ilitch also founded the Little Caesars Veterans Program to help honorably discharged veterans with career transitions, the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey Program and Ilitch Charities, addressing poverty, unemployment and homelessness by focusing on economic development and job growth. Ilitch, now deceased, was a major supporter of Wayne State University, to which he and his wife donated $8 million for the medical school’s surgery department and $40 million to build the Mike Ilitch School of Business.

The Taylor Family St. Louis

How They Created Their Wealth: The late Jack C. Taylor founded what’s now known as Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 1957 with his then-employer Arthur Lindburg. Taylor began bringing his car rental company, which specialized in home pickups, to other places around the country in 1969. What began as a rental operation with seven cars based out of a dealership has now grown to become the country’s largest car rental company, with over 7,600 offices globally and more than 600,000 cars. In 1991, Taylor handed the company over to his son, Andrew, who is now executive chairman. Before Jack Taylor’s death in 2016, Forbes estimated that the family owned 87.5 percent of Enterprise Holdings.

Their Impact: Jack Taylor’s daughter, Jo Ann Taylor Kindle, is the head of the Enterprise Holdings Foundation, which has donated over $405 million to local charities. In fiscal year 2019 alone, the foundation donated $51.4 million; 99 percent of those grants fulfilled requests by employees to help community causes they personally champion. In 2018, Taylor family announced they’d help fund a soccer stadium for the city’s new MLS team, on top of giving $6.5 million to the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation.

“It’s clear that they love the smaller, human elements of the organizations they support,” Lesley Hoffarth, president and executive director of nonprofit conservancy Forest Park Forever, told St. Louis Magazine about the Taylors. “They take a lot of joy in being able to invest so generously in institutions that matter to so many.” Ali Kindle Hogan, Jack’s granddaughter, is continuing her family’s philanthropic legacy through her nonprofit Rung for Women, which recently transformed itself from a resale boutique into an agency that helps empower women in all facets of life, from managing finances to developing their careers.

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