Remembering the Philanthropist Who Wanted to Be a Social Worker

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October 17, 2012; Source: New York Times

Joseph Rosenmiller, a philanthropist who recently passed away, wanted to be a social worker but couldn’t find a job. Perhaps that was a good thing, because Rosenmiller became wealthy, something that might not have happened to a social worker. And when he did make his fortune, he retained his social worker mentality, creating a foundation that supports grassroots causes that often have trouble drawing philanthropic dollars such as voting rights and the empowerment of domestic workers.

When Rosenmiller tried and failed to find employment as a social worker, he and a partner bought a small AM radio station in Massachusetts. They went on buying stations and developed a new format they called “magic radio,” “a rotation of light pop that was more Loggins & Messina and less Led Zeppelin,” according to his New York Times obituary. The formula worked, and his Greater Media company also profited from investing in cable television back in its early days.

The tug to do something meaningful with his life continued, and Rosenmiller eventually started a nonprofit, Volunteer Opportunities, to help organizations find helpers. He said that small actions gave him a greater sense of gratification than most of what he did in his “real job.” When he sold Greater Media in the mid-1990s, Rosenmiller endowed the Solidago Foundation with about $40 million and then ran the foundation before his son took over for him.

Solidago (the Latin term for the goldenrod plant, whose name means to strengthen or to make whole) supports “non-traditional and creative approaches to deep-rooted social problems.” The foundation has funded grassroots organizations, community organizing and civic participation projects. It appears that the would-have-been social worker found a way to do much more good at the foundation level than he might have been able to do serving a caseload of clients. –Mary Jo Draper

  • Catherine Dawson

    Life may take us in unexpected directions, but when the heart is right, our desires will be realized.
    Joseph found the secret, “It’s the little things we do that matter” to help our neighbor.