Maggi Spartz, President of the Unity Foundation since its inception in 1992, is responsible for the growth, management and finances of the philanthropic organization. Under the banner, “A Power for Good,” Unity Foundation catalyzes social and economic vitality by managing assets of about $20 million. It serves 110,000 residents of La Porte County and annually awards more than $900,000 in grants and scholarships.
The woman leading these community building efforts is a spark plug with boundless energy and a calendar that overflows with appointments and meetings. Even her hobby – sailing on Lake Michigan – requires passionate commitment and intense focus.
Sailing was one of the many things Maggi Spartz learned from her father, a manufacturer’s representative who sold nuclear measuring devices to plastics manufacturers. A self-described tomboy, she said, “I wanted to do things my dad did because they were more fun.”
And she managed to do something her father wasn’t able to accomplish, although he tried 28 times. Having competed in the Chicago Yacht Club’s Race to Mackinac 18 times, Maggi has placed three times.
“It’s a big deal,” she said. “I like winning. Winning is good.”
Spartz was born in Gary as the fourth of five children. The family moved to Beverly Shores when her mother fell in love with the community; her father was happy to be anywhere he could keep a sailboat nearby. Spartz graduated from Rogers High School in 1976 and headed to Indiana University to major in journalism. But journalistic writing didn’t suit her, so she switched to business. At IU, she gained leadership and management experience as a residence hall adviser. At one point, she served as a consultant to the female residents who opened a convenience store in the dormitory, calling it “great retail experience.” She was also dating Tom Spartz and planning a wedding.
In 1980, Maggi received a bachelor’s degree from the IU Kelley School of Business and married Tom, who was a stock broker on the options exchange in Chicago. Maggi went into the life insurance business, eventually joining Northwestern Mutual Insurance and achieving membership in the prestigious Million Dollar Roundtable, for those who sell $1 million in life insurance two years in a row.
“I was the first woman ever in the 50-year (Chicago) agency to do it,” Spartz said. “You are part of an elite club. That was a big hurdle. I worked all the time. I was so ready for it and it was fun being in Chicago in your 20s.”
But Spartz began to lose her motivation for making money and wanted to do something she found more meaningful. With their first child on the way, Maggi and Tom quit their jobs and moved to Michigan City. At about that time, Maggi’s father died and she took over his business and estate. Then she became involved with “La Porte County Take Charge,” a citizen-based strategic planning effort launched by the La Porte County Extension Office and Purdue University.
Spartz chaired the 14-member steering committee and produced a summary report in June 1992. Take Charge became the blueprint for the Unity Foundation, formed that same year. Spartz was selected to head the organization.
“I was one of the few candidates with a countywide view,” Spartz said. “I was a graduate of Leadership La Porte County and Take Charge was the county’s first long-term planning process.”
Spartz said her role at Unity Foundation is similar to selling life insurance. She continually faces the challenge of raising about $1 million per year and educating people about managing their assets.
“Most people don’t think about what happens to their assets after they die,” Spartz said. “They don’t realize that their financial life can live on afterwards. One of the biggest things we’ve had to do is get people to think about assets that they have worked so hard to build up and yet they don’t have a will.”
Spartz is clearly an asset to the La Porte County community. Tom and Maggi Spartz have raised three sons -- Emerson, Dylan and Drew -- who are carrying on the family belief in giving back. Emerson founded the highly-popular Harry Potter related website MuggleNet.com in 1999 while still in high school. Now he is the CEO of Spartz Media in Chicago, one of the fastest growing digital media publishers. He continues to create new sites such as Gives Me Hope, where people can share stories of kindness, generosity and other positive life experiences. Dylan Spartz works with Emerson as Creative Director for Spartz Media.
“They’ve been working together since they were 10 and 12 years old,” Maggi said.
Her youngest son Drew, 13, attends Boston Middle School in La Porte.
“We’re helping him find his own gifts,” Spartz said. “We give them the tools and get out of the way.”
That approach to parenting also works well for the Unity Foundation.
“We want to enable people and organizations to become stronger and not to do it for them,” she said. “We certainly can give them some help and some hope.”