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Southwest Initiative Foundation CEO resigns to take new post

Longtime Southwest Initiative Foundation President/CEO Sherry Ristau has announced that she will be resigning from her position later this summer.

HUTCHINSON — Longtime Southwest Initiative Foundation President/CEO Sherry Ristau has announced that she will be resigning from her position later this summer.

Ristau is leaving to be the president/CEO of the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend, serving communities along the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities area of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois.

Ristau has spent her entire career in rural Minnesota and has worked for the Southwest Initiative Foundation for longer than 20 years. She has been CEO for the past 17 years.

The foundation’s assets have grown from $23 million to $63 million since she took leadership in 1997.

Ristau has also served on the Council on Foundations and Orton Family Foundation boards.

“Sherry is an inspiring and visionary leader who has challenged southwest Minnesota to be the best it can be,” foundation board chair Rob Saunders said in a news release Thursday. “She has built a team of visionary people who will continue the great work of Southwest Initiative Foundation. We will miss her, but Sherry leaves us in very good hands.”

Ristau was recruited for her new position, according to the release. The Community Foundation of the Great River Bend is celebrating its 50th anniversary and preparing for the retirement of its current CEO.

“It has been an absolute honor for me to serve this organization and our southwest Minnesota regional community,” Ristau said in the release. “I have been blessed beyond belief by what Southwest Initiative Foundation has given me. This has been a difficult decision to make, but I believe this is an opportunity that I must embrace.”

While there are some similarities between the two foundations and regions, Ristau said the change will bring new challenges and allow her to build new relationships. It will also be a type of philanthropic experiment, she said, as she puts ideas from the often coveted Minnesota Initiative Foundation model to the test in a different location.

“I love what I do here for southwest Minnesota; we are doing incredible work here in our region thanks to the generous support, innovation and dedication of so many people,” Ristau said. “I am grateful for the relationships I’ve made through Southwest Initiative Foundation. Rest assured this organization is in great hands because we’re surrounded by the best board, staff, donors, partners and friends.”

The foundation’s board of directors will be implementing the succession plan and will institute a search for the next president/CEO.

As a regional community foundation, the foundation has contributed more than $64 million through its grant and loan programs. The foundation has helped more than 630 businesses start or expand through its business finance programs, which have created or retained more than 8,000 jobs. It has also established 16 Early Childhood Initiative coalitions, more than 50 Youth Energy Summit teams, 24 community foundations and more than 90 other funds.

To learn more about the foundation, visit