The Community Foundation and Knowlton Family Private Foundation hope to finalize plans this fall for the transition of the Knowlton Ice Museum and endowment fund. If approved, the result would be a new nonprofit entity under the corporate umbrella of the Community Foundation.
“Our Community Foundation is focused on meeting the charitable and philanthropic goals of our donors,” said Randa Jundi-Samman, Chair of the Community Foundation Board. “This is an exciting opportunity to help the Knowlton family transfer their private foundation assets and care for the Ice Museum collection in honor and memory of Mickey and Agnes Knowlton.”
“The Community Foundation is the right fit for our family’s charitable legacy,” said Chuck Knowlton, Trustee of the Knowlton Family Private Foundation. “We have grown an endowment fund to be available to care for the Ice Museum collection in perpetuity and the Foundation has the expertise, dedication and transparency we wanted as a family to be able to feel good about the transfer of not only millions in charitable assets, but the museum collections as well.”
The Community Foundation and the Knowlton Family have a long history, one built on mutual respect and trust. Back in 2008, Mickey and Agnes Knowlton opened a field of interest fund to improve the quality of life in and around the City of Port Huron and Port Huron Township. They gave preference to projects that supported arts, culture and tourism.
Over the years, the conversation turned to the Knowlton Ice Museum and how the Community Foundation could care for the museum collections and the family’s private foundation assets. This year, everything came together and the family is on a path to transfer the private foundation assets and the Knowlton Ice Museum over to the Community Foundation.
The Knowlton Foundation and Knowlton Ice Museum were created by Mickey and Agnes Knowlton in 2000, though the collection has been open to the public since 1987. The museum has claimed to be the largest collection of ice-making equipment and memorabilia in the U.S. There are thousands of items, including ice-cutting tools dredged from the bottoms of lakes and rivers.
Displayed at the Ice Museum are items that range from old ice picks to the horse drawn ice wagons. Other antique collections include milk industry memorabilia, license plates, antique vehicles, and hundreds of dolls and buggies collected by Agnes.
“For many years now the Community Foundation has owned real estate, been a part of arts and culture in the region and collaborated with other organizations on placemaking for our downtowns,” said Mike Cansfield, Board Member of the Community Foundation. “This is an opportunity to help a donor carry out their wishes within a framework we are very comfortable.”
Working with the Community Foundation are the Knowlton Private Foundation Trustees, Chuck Knowlton, Judy Knowlton and Suzie (Knowlton) Barkhouse. The three siblings have been responsible for the ice museum and private foundation since 2014. “I remember how quickly we ran out of room to store my parents growing collection,” said Chuck. “They outgrew a few places, including a pole barn built next to the ice plant, and in 2009 the Ice Museum known today was created.”
When reflecting on how the collection came to be, Chuck shared that “long before it was a thing to start a tech company in your garage, a friend of my Dad’s sold him two small ice machines which he used to start selling ice from his garage.” Party Time Ice was born then and there. Eventually the company grew all over Michigan to include three manufacturing plants and many warehouses. It was Mickey’s interest in ice manufacturing that turned into a labor of love for collecting anything ice harvest and storage related from an essential ice industry long passed.
The Knowlton siblings are also no strangers to philanthropy beyond their parents’ legacy, they have a donor advised fund at the Community Foundation, opened in 2018, that is an additional charitable mechanism for the family to be able to give back to the community.
“We are honored that the Knowlton family continues to grow their relationship with us and knew the Community Foundation could handle a complex transaction, helping them to dissolve a private foundation and ensure their parents’ collection lived on for others to learn and enjoy,” said Jundi-Samman.
The Community Foundation has been helping donors achieve their charitable goals for over 75 years. Assisting donors and their advisors to work through complicated estate gifts, accepting gifts of complex assets, and the dissolution of private foundations are all part of the philanthropic services provided by the Foundation.
The Knowlton Ice Museum will continue to operate in a similar fashion to how it does now for the near future. Ultimately, the goal is to find ways to provide the public more opportunities to interact with the pieces and to share the collection with communities beyond Port Huron.