Lemonade stands are a rite of passage during childhood: The experience of selling homemade drinks goes a long way in teaching kids important lessons about hard work and the value of a dollar. But when Stow resident Eileen Burg encouraged her granddaughter Bailey to start a lemonade stand several years ago at age 7, she had a much bigger lesson in mind.
Inspired by Eileen’s frequent donations to charity, Bailey decided to send all the money she made at the lemonade stand to the Make a Wish Foundation to help children suffering from life-threatening conditions. The organization sent her a thank-you letter in the mail, and to this day, Bailey still treasures it.
“I was just so excited to help like my grandma,” she said.
Eileen’s passion for philanthropy was sparked in part by the generous spirit of her late husband, former First Energy Chairman and CEO H. Peter Burg. Pete was known for his compassion and connection to the greater Akron community. He helped others constantly, often quietly and without recognition – so much so that after he died, his children were shocked by the number of people who approached them with stories of their dad’s generosity.
“That’s just who my dad was, day in and day out,” his daughter Amy Cole said. “He never took anything for himself.”
After Pete’s untimely passing in 2004, Eileen decided to honor his life by continuing his legacy of personal involvement in the community. She established the H. Peter Burg Fund at Akron Community Foundation and committed herself to making grants to organizations the two of them cared deeply about.
“Pete’s legacy is one of inspiration, stewardship and leadership,” Eileen said. “Through the fund, we’re continuing his work and demonstrating the love he had for others.”
Since that time, the H. Peter Burg Fund has awarded more than $250,000 in grants to local organizations such as Akron Children’s Hospital, Heart to Heart Communications, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. With the fund, Eileen even helped pilot the “Born Learning” childhood development program at Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, allowing her to impact the lives of hundreds of young children and their families.
“I believe we all have a responsibility not only for ourselves, but for others. We are all given gifts to share, and by sharing them, we grow personally and as a community,” Eileen said. The gifts she makes with the fund are even more special because they’re made in memory of Pete, keeping his spirit alive and thriving.
“The fund keeps me close to Pete and the organizations he supported,” she said. “It helps my kids learn more about their dad, and my grandkids learn more about their grandpa.”
Eileen and Pete have five grandchildren, and Eileen is passionate about instilling Pete’s generosity and selfless nature in each one of them.
“I hope to teach my grandchildren that when you give of yourself, it comes back to you and inspires you,” she said. “I want them to know it is a privilege and an honor to touch the lives of others.”
It’s evident that Eileen’s example is already making a big impact on her granddaughters, or “grand-dots” as she and Pete called them. Bailey, a talented cellist in eighth grade, said she plans to get a college scholarship and use her musical talent to reach out to others.
“I want to help other people like my grandma and grandpa have,” Bailey said.
Her mother, Amy, said it is powerful to see Pete’s compassion for others reflected in her own children.
“I’m absolutely grateful and very proud,” she said. “It feels good to know my dad’s legacy is going to be continued through the generations. My mom has done a great job keeping him alive with the fund.”
In the future, Bailey may continue to follow her grandmother’s example by establishing her own family fund – a choice not so different from the generous one she made all those years ago as a 7-year-old lemonade stand proprietor.
“I see (my grandma) helping all these people, and it really makes me want to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.