Haywood County resilience boosted by Cruso Endowment

As you approach Canton on NC Highway 215, you’ll notice a freshly painted mural on the “pump house” maintenance shed alongside the Pigeon River. Drive farther into town, and you’ll pass Sorrells Street Park with a new “splash pad,” a water playground for small children.  

As you sightsee more in this mountain community west of Asheville, other recent improvements stand out: new street signs for the historic district and new trees planted as part of the community’s Earth Day program. The Community Kitchen, dedicated to feeding local people who are homeless and food insecure, recently moved to a more accessible location, and the local arts festival will soon have an expanded presence in town.   

These improvements would be noteworthy in any rural setting, but they are even more remarkable, given the challenges that eastern Haywood County (also known as the Cruso community, of which Canton is a part) has faced in recent years: In 2004, the remnants of hurricanes Frances and Ivan dumped more than 20 inches of rain in parts of Haywood County, flooding much of the Cruso area.  

  • In 2004, the remnants of hurricanes Frances and Ivan dumped more than 20 inches of rain in parts of Haywood County, flooding much of the Cruso area
  • In 2008, the Great Recession reversed a decade’s worth of economic growth.
  • In 2021, Tropical Storm Fred dropped 11 inches of rain in the mountains near Cruso. The east fork of the
  • Pigeon River peaked 3 feet higher than the 2004 flood, leaving $300 million in damages, displacing up to 500 families in the county and taking seven lives.  

    How does a community recover from these setbacks and even move forward? There are many reasons for a community’s resilience, but the Cruso Endowment has played an important role in supporting community projects and uplifting the community, according to Nick Scheuer, Canton town manager.  

    “The Cruso Endowment has been invaluable in helping to beautify our town, funding special events, funding major park amenities and more,” he says. 

    The Cruso Endowment, a donor advised fund at the North Carolina Community Foundation, was established by local residents David and Irene Smathers to support four charitable interests in eastern Haywood County: 

  • programs and organizations serving the economically disadvantaged,  

  • church building projects,  

  • beautification and appearance projects in the town of Canton and  

  • projects for recreation needs of the town of Canton. 
  • David and Irene left behind the Endowment following a lifetime of quiet charitable giving and support for many local nonprofit causes. The fund has distributed more than $592,000 in grants to organizations in the Cruso region since its inception in 1996.  

    “When we were able to start dispersing funds, the first thing we did was to let people know that the funds were available,” says Pat Smathers (no relation to David and Irene Smathers), co-advisor for the endowment. In addition to initially publicizing the endowment in the local paper, he and endowment co-advisor Doris R. Hall, continue to contact local groups that would be good candidates for grants. They also seek out project ideas based on community needs and receive some referrals through the North Carolina Community Foundation and make grants on a rolling basis. 

    After requests are submitted, Pat looks them over and then contacts Hall, a sister of Irene Smathers. If there are requests that will benefit the community and that are appropriate for the endowment, they are discussed and jointly approved, Hall says.  

    The fund also enables the community to get creative by aiding the incubation of important projects that the city would not otherwise be able to fund, Scheurer says. 

    “During COVID and Tropical Storm Fred, the Cruso Endowment funded major and impactful projects when we could not justify utilizing taxpayer dollars,” he says. “The town of Canton is incredibly grateful to the Cruso Endowment, and we are so excited to partner with them on future projects.” 

    The endowment is open to contributions, and as it grows, it can make more grants available. You may give to the Cruso Endowment online or simply make a check out to the “Cruso Endowment” and mail it to North Carolina Community Foundation, 3737 Glenwood Ave., Suite 460, Raleigh, NC 27612.  

    The Cruso Endowment was the subject of a 2021 article in The Mountaineer on how it is boosting recreation and helping those in need. Read the article.

    Are you interested in starting a similar fund to support your community? Contact our development team to get started.