Cementing a Legacy: The Origins of El Pomar Foundation
By Coya Pair
El Pomar Foundation’s history of supporting Colorado began before the Foundation was formally established, as co-founders Spencer and Julie Penrose engaged in personal philanthropy in the decades prior. The couple created El Pomar to ensure their mission for philanthropic impact would carry on in perpetuity. Today, the Foundation contributes more than $25 million annually through charitable grants to nonprofit organizations and government equivalents across Colorado, and through community programming. Our work today would not be possible without the Penroses’ visionary charter in 1937. To honor our 85th anniversary, we are looking back to better understand how the couple made El Pomar Foundation possible.
The Penroses’ philanthropy began as a personal passion to support community vitality—they made charitable contributions to, and founded a number of, organizations in the Pikes Peak region that continue to support the people of Colorado today. Spencer and Julie came from families that practiced philanthropy in Philadelphia and Detroit and many of their contemporaries, in Colorado and across the country, were also creating nonprofit foundations. For example, the Penroses’ good friend Claude Boettcher started the Boettcher Foundation the same year as El Pomar’s founding.
This growing movement of philanthropy encouraged the Penroses to follow suit, but the biggest motivator for establishing a foundation was Spencer Penrose facing his death in the 1930’s. In 1932, Spencer Penrose was diagnosed with throat cancer. He traveled to Paris and Chicago for years of treatment, but in the late 30’s, it became apparent that he would likely succumb to the disease.
Despite this tragic diagnosis, Spencer did anything but slow down toward the end of his life. He continued to engage in entrepreneurial ventures such as The Broadmoor hotel, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The Penroses started El Pomar Foundation to ensure the projects could continue without Spencer’s oversight, and to enable their commitment to Colorado to extend beyond their lifetimes. El Pomar Foundation was initially incorporated in 1937 with shares from the Penroses’ El Pomar Investment Company and subsequent contributions from the Penroses’ estates totaling approximately $21 million.
Spencer's battle with cancer offered him insight into the difficulty of accessing high quality treatment in Colorado. To improve the quality of treatment in Colorado Springs, he supported a treatment facility at Glockner Hospital, now known as Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs. El Pomar has since granted more than $24 million to the hospital.
When Spencer died in 1939, he left his $15 million estate, which included The Broadmoor and its 3,000 acres of land to the Foundation. After his death, the Glockner-Penrose hospital project was completed. While Spencer himself did not benefit from the new treatment center, his philanthropy ensured that those who came after him would have access to improved care.
After her husband’s death, Julie continued to support many projects and organizations in the Pikes Peak region until she passed in 1956, when she too left millions of dollars from her estate to the Foundation. Thanks to the Penroses’ vision and desire to cement their legacy, we continue to build upon their initial investments and mission to enhance, encourage and promote the current and future well-being of the people of Colorado.
Interview with Sarah Woods and Samantha Means