A century after a wealthy local businessman Andrew Drumm established the namesake farm institute with his will, the directors of what is now Drumm Farm Center for Children are taking the year to celebrate his vision being carried out for 100 years – and hopefully another 100 more.
Incorporating the nonprofit's annual fundraising events, Drumm Farm's Century Celebration benefit dinner is Friday at the campus on Lee's Summit Road in Independence.
In October, the Hoedown festival will be what Executive Director Brad Smith calls the big celebration. Of course, there's also the annual alumni reunion in July for men who spent part of their childhoods at Drumm when it served as a home for orphaned or indigent boys. The 2017 reunion was the 70th event.
Friday's benefit dinner at the gymnasium will have about 350 to 400 in attendance, said Lisa Moorhouse, Drumm's donor development director.
“What we've tried to do is have it lead up to 100-year celebration in October,” Smith said. “The big hoedown – it has been smaller – we decided to make it the 100-year event. We'll have a lot of people interact with our families and the campus.”
Drumm Farm now serves as a foster family residence site and also provides transitional housing – both on and off campus – to some who have aged out of foster care. When Smith took over as executive director in 2011, replacing the retired Rufus Little, Drumm Farm served 18 children. Now it has between 70 and 75 children and those in transition housing, he said, and when a new set of apartments opens soon that number will grow to about 90.
Drumm Farm has made about $10 million in capital improvements this decade. Six structures have been constructed, including residences and the farmers market building supplied from produce and small livestock raised on the farm. Having a farmers market, as well as banquet hall rentals and hosting annual kindergarten field trips, helps the farm's visibility.
“It's one thing to engage the community, but if you don't give them a reason to come, it's kind of a shallow engagement,” Smith said. “Community awareness leads to community support, which allows us to serve more people.”
Next to the gymnasium where the benefit dinner takes place is a bronze bust of Andrew Drumm made by local retired attorney Byron Constance. Smith said they wanted the simple monument because there was nothing prior on campus that directly honored a man whom he lauds as a visionary even beyond establishing Drumm Farm Institute.
The plaque on the base reads, “A rough life, if you can stand up under it and keep it from making your character rough, gives you a constitution that will last a lifetime.”
Smith recalled that when he first interviewed for the position more as a courtesy, he realized the “upside” and potential the campus had to reach more people.
“My wife and I, we went to the library and checked out every book on Andrew Drumm and Drumm Center that they had,” he said. “This guy, he was so ahead of his time.”
A few examples that stick out to Smith:
• Having a Catholic priest, Jewish rabbi and Baptist preacher on the original board of trustees – an unusual grouping at the time – along with his wife, who when he died in 1919 wouldn't have even been allowed to vote.
• Presuming that Drumm Farm's land would eventually be annexed by Independence or possibly Kansas City, he instructed that boys housed there be able to attend local schools, to avoid a sense of isolation.
• He predicted (decades ahead) that the government would develop what is now 501(c)3 non-profit status and encouraged Drumm Farm become such an organization.
• Realizing that part of the farm's 370 acres would be desirable in the future for development, he allowed that some land could be developed as a means of supporting operations. Drumm Farm Golf Club leases a large portion of what had been farmland, in addition to the adjacent residential neighborhood.
Between the golf course lease and mineral rights retained from Drumm's lands in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, that accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the group's income.
Guiding Drumm Farm with the same vision as its namesake, Smith said, is an admirable challenge.
“The hardest job I have,” he said, “is to live up to what he did.”