A Legacy of Giving: The Winnell Family

Posted on September 18th, 2020

Much like his family roots in Petoskey, Todd Winnell’s commitment to giving back is generations deep. Todd reflected on this legacy of giving in early 2020 as he was preparing to celebrate his 50th birthday. He quickly credited many people who have impacted his life and traced their threads of influence.

As a youngster growing up in Ann Arbor, Todd recalled giving back as being a big part of his early childhood. As he described it, his family was poor, so giving back wasn’t about money. To illustrate this, Todd told about Christmas-time mission trips with his family (parents Mike and Kate and younger sister Katie). Together with their church, they would travel from Ann Arbor to rural Appalachia with a U-Haul full of wrapped presents.

“We learned and saw first-hand what it meant to give back to those less fortunate,” Todd said. “I learned from my parents to give your time, energy and compassion.”

When Todd was a junior in high school, his family moved back to Petoskey where his parents had both grown up. Although they had always stayed connected to family up north through summer and holiday visits, this move strengthened those connections.

Todd Winnell and his grandfather Hugh in the late 1990s.

Fast forward just a few years to 1995 when then 25-year-old Todd began his adult life in Petoskey. Working as a certified public accountant, married to Jen and expecting their first child Emily. Todd described getting “plugged back in” with his grandfather Hugh Winnell. It was Grandpa Hugh who recruited Todd to join the local Kiwanis Club and also introduced him to the relatively new Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation.

Pairing his own professional life as an accountant with his role as grandson, Todd assisted his grandfather with his estate plan, part of which was establishing a charitable gift annuity at the Community Foundation. When Hugh died in 2012, this annuity became four distinct funds that still benefit our community today.

Between his parents and his grandfather, Todd has had remarkable role models for giving back. Together he and Jen have carried this forward in their own family. From their family’s early years, Todd described involving their kids Emily and Isaac in giving, even sitting down with Monopoly money to decide where the family would make donations at the end of the year.

Emily, Isaac, Jen and Todd Winnell vacationing in Oregon, 2019.

In 2003, Todd and Jen established an endowed fund at the Community Foundation, the Winnell Family Outdoor Experience Fund. Todd credits Jen and her experience with Outward Bound, an international network of outdoor education programs. A scholarship from her local high school allowed Jen to experience three weeks of backpacking in the mountains of Colorado during her late teens. The realization that without that scholarship, her trip would not have been possible, combined with their shared love of the outdoors helped define the fund’s purpose of getting kids outdoors. Recently their fund has provided grant support to local efforts including the Kids Pedaling for a Purpose biking initiative and the Top of Michigan Mountain Bike Association’s work to establish mountain bike trails in Petoskey.

Looking back, it’s clear that a Winnell family trait is looking ahead. Todd’s recent 50th birthday provides a good example. As with any milestone birthday, much advance planning was involved. But for Todd and Jen, these were no ordinary plans. The question Todd asked himself was this: “What can I do in this moment that will be truly meaningful and stand the test of time?” 

The answer to that question was thinking about something that would benefit the community for generations to come: giving back. Together, Todd and Jen made a substantial gift to their fund at the Community Foundation. 

“The power of endowment is important to Jen and me. While it’s nice to see gifts making an impact now,” Todd says, “charity done right benefits generations we’ll never know or meet.”

This feature on the Winnell Family was part of our 2019-2020 Annual Report published August 2020.