Established in 1944 by Michael and Sarah Benedum, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation is the largest philanthropic foundation contributing primarily to West Virginia organizations. The independent foundation operates two grants programs, one for West Virginia organizations and the other for southwestern Pennsylvania. Michael Benedum, a native of Bridgeport, amassed a fortune in the oil and gas industry. He and Sarah, a native of Monongalia County, married in 1896 and settled in Cameron in Harrison County.
The foundation is named for the Benedums’ only child, Claude Worthington Benedum, who died at age 20 in the 1918 flu epidemic. After Michael Benedum’s first major oil discovery, he moved his business headquarters and home in 1907 to Pittsburgh, where he lived for more than 50 years. Benedum died in 1959, and left his fortune to the foundation. By 1969, the foundation’s assets had grown to more than $66 million. Through 2009, the foundation had awarded approximately $365 million in grants, and its current assets were just over $340 million.
Approximately two-thirds of the Benedum Foundation’s grant funds are awarded within West Virginia with the remaining third going to the southwestern Pennsylvania region, which includes Pittsburgh. The program for southwestern Pennsylvania focuses on education, economic development, and civic engagement, while the West Virginia program focuses on initiatives that ‘‘help people help themselves.’’ In the fifth codicil to his will, Michael wrote, ‘‘We know not where seed may sprout . . . . It is our duty to sow and to nurture, leaving it to others to harvest the fruits of our efforts.’’
Last Revised on June 21, 2012
Mallison, Sam T. The Great Wildcatter. Charleston: Education Foundation, 1953.
In the Company of Extraordinary People: A Special Report upon the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Benedum Foundation, 1994.