Our Founder

Nathan Cummings was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1896. He moved from impoverished beginnings to great success by hard work, entrepreneurial genius and a willingness to take risks.

In 1939, he purchased the C.D. Kenny Company of Baltimore, a small wholesale distributor of canned foods, coffee, tea, and spices. That was the beginning of the international company that was known as the Sara Lee Corporation. For three decades, he personally guided the growth of the company. He retired from active management in 1968 to pursue philanthropic interests.

In his later years, he was a perceptive art collector and a generous philanthropist, with a strong interest in medicine and science. He inherited a spirit of sharing and community from his immigrant parents, and transmitted that spirit to his children and grandchildren, who contribute their time and energy to the Foundation. He died in 1985, leaving the majority of his estate to this Foundation.

As an entrepreneur and business man, Nathan Cummings believed in innovation and risk-taking and was inspired by a quote below by the English writer Samuel Johnson.

"Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome."

He used this saying to inspire his colleagues and friends and motivate them to work through inevitable challenges that arise in life and work. It was a guiding credo in the growth and development of Consolidated Foods Corporation, which subsequently became the Sara Lee Corporation, and he gifted copper desk plaques etched with this quote to his management teams and many others, adding, “Compliments of Nathan Cummings.” Guided by this mantra, his children and grandchildren have imbued NCF with a similar ethos in its innovative and risk-taking philanthropy.

The Cummings Family

The children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Nathan Cummings inherited his spirit of sharing and community. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue his philanthropic work by contributing their time and energy to the foundation that bears his name.

Our Legacy
News + Ideas

NCF Remembers Buddy Mayer |

NEW YORK – Beatrice “Buddy” Cummings Mayer, the matriarch of the Nathan Cummings family and a founding Trustee of the…
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NCF Remembers Rob Mayer |

A devoted family man whose passion, vision and business acumen combined to make him a leader in venture philanthropy, Dr.…
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NCF Oral History: Transformative Impacts in Society |

Rachel Cowan, Former Director, Jewish Life & Values Program + Peter Teague, Former Director, Ecological Innovation / Contemplative Practice Program
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NCF Oral History: Values Of Kindness And Inclusion Shall Remain For The Welfare Of All People |

Beatrice Cummings Mayer, Trustee Emeritus + Jaimie Mayer, Trustee + Robert N. Mayer, Trustee
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NCF Oral History: Positivity, Knowledge, Community & Future |

Khary Lazzare-White, Executive Director, Co-Founder, Brotherhood—SisterSol
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NCF Oral History: Never Felt Like An Outsider |

Andrew Lee, Former Trustee + Ernest Tollerson, Former Trustee
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NCF Oral History: Passions Of Family, Trustees And Staff. A Focus For The Foundation |

Lance Lindblom, Former President & CEO + Rachel Durchslag, Former Board Vice Chair
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NCF Oral History: Seeding The Field Of Arts And Social Justice |

Claudine Brown, Former Director, Arts & Culture Program + Maurine Knighton, Former Director, Arts & Culture Program
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NCF Oral History: Permission To Take Chances, Make Mistakes And Be Who We Are |

Rachel Durchslag, Former Board Vice Chair + Amy Sorensen, Associate
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NCF Oral History: With Privilege Comes Responsibility |

Jaimie Mayer, Trustee + Danielle Durchslag, Former Trustee
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NCF Oral History: A Hub to Connect – to Re-charge |

Michael Cummings, Trustee + Jason Cummings, Associate
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NCF Oral History: Contributing to the Better Good of the Country |

James K. Cummings, Trustee + Ruth Cummings, Trustee
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NCF Oral History: Feeling The Energy Of The Community |

James K. Cummings, Trustee + M. Annette Ensley, Former Director of Administration & Human Resources
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