Even at her own retirement party, Ann Bax knew "there's more work to do."
The United Way of Central Missouri held the event for its departing president Monday evening at the Missouri Farm Bureau Center, 701 S Country Drive. Guests included representatives from United Way's agency partners, the organization's business supporters, volunteers, and Bax's family and friends.
During the event, Cole County Western District Commissioner Harry Otto, state Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe all presented Bax with proclamations expressing gratitude.
"I think the most important thing that we can do today is recognize you and really want to wish you the very best. You're too young to retire," Griffith said, adding that what he saw while he was executive director of Red Cross and during the 2019 tornado "really brought home" the importance of United Way in the community. Red Cross is an agency partner of United Way.
After Bax's departure, Lee Knernschield of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson City will take over as president. However, Bax said that if appropriate, she will be willing to help out with some "special projects" that are still ongoing.
"I'm going to be open to where the needs are and where they might need my help," she said.
Some of these projects include updating the employee handbook, which Bax said has been on her organization's strategic plan for several years, as well as a program to provide transportation for health care purposes in rural communities and transitioning the Long-Term Recovery Committee formed in response to the 2019 tornado into a more formal Community Organization Active in Disaster (COAD), she said.
A COAD is an organization that works with the local emergency management agency to mitigate, prepare, respond and recover from natural disasters, according to a guidance manual from the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
"I committed to the group that I would help them with that work, because again, Lee's going to be very busy," Bax said. "I don't want to be intrusive or get in the way, but if I can be helpful, then that's what I want to do."
Apart from continuing her relationship with United Way, Bax looks forward to spending more time with her family and friends, such as a river cruise early next year with some good friends.
Looking back, she found the relationships she formed with people in the community as a memorable experience.
"When I was offered this role, I was thinking I knew people and I knew this community because I grew up here. But I just didn't have any understanding of all the people I was going to meet and get to work beside (with)," she said.
Bax became president of the local United Way in 2010 following the retirement of Linda McAnany. During Bax's tenure, the organization grew to serve Camden, Maries, Morgan and Phelps counties, as well as adding three new agency partners and initiatives. They are Capital City Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Central Missouri Foster Care & Adoption Association and the United Way Early Childhood Initiative, according to previous reporting.
United Way also saw improved fundraising under Bax. In the past six years, the organization has increased the amount raised by $100,000 each year, according to previous reporting.
Some of the organization's community work during Bax's time as president includes setting up a mobile food pantry in Cole County with the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri. The pantry distributes food to seven locations in the county every month. It has given out more than 800,000 pounds of food to the county annually, Bax said.
"That's something that's very near and dear to my heart," she said.
After the 2019 tornado, United Way collected and gave out more than $1 million in material and monetary donations, according to previous reporting. Of the around $700,000 donation to the Long-Term Recovery Committee the organization set up, more than 50 percent of it went to providing immediate support to disaster survivors, while the rest is being used to support long-term recovery cases, according to the organization's website.
During the pandemic, the organization set up a counseling helpline and offered grants to agencies to help them stay afloat and meet COVID-19 guidelines, according to previous reporting.
Jaime Walz, executive director of United Way's agency partner Dreams to Reality, said United Way has helped her nonprofit expand its geographical reach and buy clothing items like plus-sized outfits and those that are usually not donated, such as bras. Her nonprofit provides interview and work attire for disadvantaged women, according to its website.
"Whenever we have questions, we go to do our meeting, (Bax) just seems very sweet and honest and very helpful," said Amina Acelam, president of the nonprofit's board of directors.