History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Wisconsin - Organizations - Activist & Political




Funding of GLBT causes
Startup support of other organizations
Milwaukee-based with state-wide involvement

View the Cream City Foundation web site at this link (will open in a separate browser window).




The Cream City Foundation (originally the Cream City Association Foundation), was founded by the Cream City Business Association in 1982 as the charitable arm of the the CCBA, but quickly adopted its own set of bylaws and registered with the State and Federal I.R.S. as a separate charitable foundation.

Originally started with $500 in seed money, CCF has grown to provide over $700,000 in grant dollars to many organizations and projects that are working to improve the quality of life for LGBT people.

CCF sponsored the first Casino Nights (based on a stellar event run annually by San Francisco's gay/lesbian foundation); co-sponsored several scholarships; and sponsored the first regularly scheduled Gay/Lesbian-themed cable news program on public access cable. After a the demise of GPU, the CCF also laid the groundwork for community meeting space with a community center opened December 1987.

In October 1987 the CCF sponsored a regular cable program called "Tri-Cable Tonight", which was sponsored by a group of people called Milwaukee Gay/Lesbian Cable Network and became a subcommittee of the CCF. This network of people created original lesbian/gay programming for almost 5 years for telecast on Warner cable open access channels.

In December 1987 the CCF opened an office and conference facility in what was named the Foundation Community Center. This facility became the meeting place for many other organizations and events over the next 2 years. It was also the place that new mayor John Norquist met with gay/lesbian community leaders in May 1989 to discuss how his new administration could be more LGBT-issues aware.

Originally founded to help other LGBT organizations in the Milwaukee area get started, CCF's fundraising and niche was still a struggle. There were many worthy causes and organizations hoping to make their mark, and needing help getting organized: for example, PrideFest and the Milwaukee AIDS Project (later to become the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin) might have had trouble getting started without the help and ongoing support of the Cream City Foundation.

Late in 1989 the CCF moved their offices to the Enterprise Center just off Locust Street, then in the mid 1990s moved into the building leased by the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. At the same time, it was able to hire its first full time Executive Director, moving the CCF into a more prominent role, as it began to network with other foundations and with organizations looking for financial support, to better leverage the available funds via more networking and collaboration.

For several years, from the mid 2000's until 2012, under a new, full time Executive Director (Maria Cadenas), CCF re-defined itself. By 2010, it stated its philosophy as:

    Cream City Foundation is a community based foundation focused on funding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) programs and organizations working towards social change in southeastern Wisconsin.

    We believe that philanthropy has an immense influence on creating long-lasting social change in our communities - including the elimination of homophobia and gender identity discrimination. We invest with our grantee partners to change attitudes and institutions such that they cease to create the very problems that charity tries to alleviate - we call this structural change philanthropy.

    Cream City Foundation also works closely with local and national funders to promote structural change philanthropy and create a giving and philanthropic cooperation to ensure our funding has its maximum impact in our communities.

    Part of our strategy also includes building visibility of our local LGBT communities through specific initiatives, such as GayNeighbor.org, in addition to our grant making; provide philanthropic education and giving tools; and expanding the philanthropic tools available for those interested in funding LGBT issues.

CCF's "social change" focus did cause some difference of opinion among the community about CCF's evolution: rather than helping start-up organizations become established, or supporting focused LGBT groups or causes, Cream City Foundation's grant making became focused on solutions "that create long lasting change on behalf of LGBT people by focusing on the relationship between widely held beliefs (cultural change) and policies, institutions, structures (organizational change) that produce inequities."

But CCF's changed focus showed great benefit as well, and was a successful formula for long term growth. It reached its 30th anniversary in 2012, with a new Executive Director, Paul Fairchild, and with him came renewed purpose and community enthusiasm.

The period from about 2018 to 2021 however were rough times for the CCF. There seems to have been a period of uncertainty in the purpose and mission of CCF. Then in Febraury-March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and activity of many businmesses and organizations ground to a halt as in-person gatherings were banned or discouraged. In April 2020, then-President of CCF Brett Blomme was elected as judge of Circuit Court branch 5; but within a year, he was arrested on child pornography charges, bringing a scandal to CCF's doorstep as media outlets mentioned his previous affiliation with CCF. By late 2020, acting president Gary Balcerzak was also out, and another acting president, DJ Quam, called a "State of the Foundation" community meeting on September 7, 2021.

Presidents of CCF have included:

    1982-1983- Ralph Navarro
    1984-1989- Don Schwamb
    1989-1991- Warren Breitlow
    1991-1993- William Frank
    1993-1998- Tony Rhodes
    1999- Mary Messerlie
    - Denise Wise
    - Kevin Loos
    2007- - Tim Clark
    2010-?? - Jim Schleif
    2017-2020- Brett Blomme
    2020-2021- Gary Balcerzak
    2021- DJ Quam

The UWM Archives LGBT Collection holds a considerable amount of the Cream City Foundation's historical papers. UWM Archives has this description of CCF in their collection description:

    Cream City Foundation (CCF) is the only non-profit, grant making, community-based foundation serving the entire State of Wisconsin whose sole purpose is to support the changing needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. The Cream City Association Foundation, as it was originally known, was formed in mid-1982 as the charitable arm of the Cream City Business Association (CCBA). However, CCAF quickly adopted its own set of bylaws and registered with the State and Federal I.R.S. as a separate charitable foundation. The first board meeting of the CCAF was called to order on October 5, 1982. In December 1986, CCAF changed its name to the Cream City Foundation. Past presidents include Ralph Navarro (1982-1983), Don Schwamb (1984-1989), Warren Breitlow (1989-1991), William Frank (1991-1993), Tony Rhodes (1993-1998), and Mary Messerlie (1999- ).

    In addition to awarding grants, CCF has also sponsored the Milwaukee Gay/Lesbian Cable Network, a volunteer group that produced regular and special programming on gay and lesbian issues for Milwaukee's public access cable channel. It helped establish the Foundation Community Center in 1988 as a gathering place for various groups in Milwaukee's LGBT community. CCF raises funds by participating in the United Way and A CHOICE programs, holding fundraising events such as Casino Night, and relying on the donations of private individuals.


30th Anniversary Commemorative panel
created for History Project display at PrideFest 2012

25th Anniversary Booklet
(a compilation of display panels
created for the 25th anniversary celebration
at the Mitchell Park Domes)

original CCAF logo

first CCF logo

variation on Column logo

Arrest advice cards, circa 1985

Mayor Norquist, May 1989

The Board of Directors, Dec. 1990

Credits: design and arrangement by Don Schwamb,
with materials contributed by CCF's Board, and Executive Director Michael Salinas.
Last updated: April-2022.

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