Seattle Foundation Blog

Powering Change: Yvonne Belshaw

At nearly 100 years old, Yvonne Belshaw is investing in White Center kids


August 29, 2018

By Kristin DizonRead this story and more in Seattle Foundation's Heart & Science Magazine Volume 5.

Yvonne Belshaw doesn't consider herself a philanthropist. Now 97, and quick with a winsome smile, Yvonne thinks of herself as helpful. “I like to help people that are less fortunate than I am,” she says with modesty.

This despite the fact that in the summer of 2017, Belshaw made a substantial investment to increase equity and opportunity for children in White Center, a neighborhood close to her heart. The gift is more money than she imagined being able to have, much less give, in her lifetime.

Her gift will support a broad expansion of programs and offerings at the Southwest Boys & Girls Club, which serves local children with engaging activities, homework support, team sports, free weekday dinners and more. Located at a King County Housing Authority site, there is deep need for the Club’s services in the surrounding neighborhood.

“We were all completely stunned. We’ve never received a gift this big,” said Club Director Eric Watkins, who added that Belshaw had already paid for the Club to renovate its kitchen and purchase all new appliances. “Coming from Miss Yvonne, we’re beyond grateful and appreciative, but it’s
in her nature. She’s so invested in this club, this community and these kids.”

Jayme Hommer, Major Gifts Officer for Boys and Girls Club of King County, said the transformative gift will help the club enroll kids up to its maximum capacity of 180, from a current daily average of 140, for years to come.

The Club celebrated Belshaw’s gift by throwing her a 96.5 birthday party, with kids singing to her and cake all around. “I just got tears in my eyes, I was so impressed,” Yvonne said. “It can’t make you anything but happy to be there and see the kids studying and eating.”

What stays with everyone who meets Belshaw is that she is a dynamic lady whose zest for life and learning is infectious. At 93, she wrote and produced a play.

At age 90, she was the president of a manufacturing company. She paints Japanese-style sumi-e ink paintings, makes art collages that have been displayed in local galleries, and has written a book for each of her seven great-grandchildren.

Yvonne spent many years working in the Rainier Valley neighborhood, where her husband managed Belshaw Brothers Inc., a family manufacturing company that made automated machines for commercial bakeries, including the “donut robot.” She hadn’t planned to work while raising two children, but when her husband got sick, she joined the company, heading its advertising department. In later years, she worked in White Center after her husband started a new company, Food Equipment Design Inc., that made automated pancake dispensers. She also volunteered for many years at the White Center Food Bank, Kiwanis Club and served on the White Center Chamber of Commerce, leading a beautification effort to clean up trash and graffiti.

Belshaw grew up during the Great Depression and remembers her father putting cards in the soles of his shoes to cover the bare patches. She remembers her grandmother offering a sandwich or stew to those in need on the back steps, saying, “Honey, when people are hungry, you feed them.” That sentiment carries over to her philanthropic support of Mary’s Place, which provides shelter for homeless women and children.

Yvonne’s giving also extends globally. She has funded the creation of wells in Africa and regularly supports OxFam, Medical Teams International, Splash, WaterFirst and more.

She hopes her example and philosophy of leaving a legacy that will benefit others has been absorbed by the three generations of family. “After your needs are met, why do you need any more money?”

Heart & Science Magazine

Read Heat & Science magazine Vol. 5 for more on how philanthropists, community organizations and Seattle Foundation are working to create a healthy community through addressing basic needs and building vibrant communities.

Interested in making your giving more impactful? Connect with one of our expert philanthropic advisors.

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