Once Kip learned that children from a particular school or neighborhood had never been to a museum or seen a play or a concert, Kip would initiate yet another program. Kip quietly but effectively challenged social and economic injustice wherever he encountered it and his earnestness frequently helped alter prejudice and expand awareness of the serious needs of people and animals.
The scope of his charitable activities was impressive; the SPCA, the University of Richmond, the Heritage Library in Charles City, and Virginia Commonwealth University, were among the early recipients of his generosity, with the list expanding each year.
Kip was as practical in his approach to everyday life as he was to the needs of others. If something needed to be done, he just did it. After a few hours each morning monitoring one initiative or another, Kip's break was spent sweeping the street outside his beloved Morris Street residence in Richmond's Fan District. Few people passing the elderly man sweeping the sidewalk could imagine that perhaps their favorite painting at the Virginia Museum might be there because of Kip, or that a piece of Richmond-made silver at the Valentine Museum had been donated after a decisive nudge from Kip, or that, even as he swept, a busload of students from a nearby middle school were on their way to the University of Richmond to see live theatre for the first time.
Kip's professional life revolved around directing visuals for Thalhimer's Department Stores. His famous Christmas windows were a much-anticipated part of Richmond's holiday season for many decades. Today, they remain fond, almost magical memories from the childhoods of many Richmonders. Although Kip passed away in 2005, his private, philanthropic life lives on through the Kip Kephart Foundation, which continues to identify and meet the needs of people, especially of children and animals, in Kip's words, "regardless of pedigree."
Steve Rula, Jr. was born in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia to a working class family that would come to typify 20th century upward mobility. His father initially worked in coal mines, sometimes sleeping on a cot in the mining office during the week and returning to his family on weekends. He had much higher ambitions for himself and his family, however, and the mountains soon became a distant, though proud memory. He would come to exemplify the “Greatest Generation” he became part of, and is currently finishing his memoir of WWII, including his teenage journey from his beloved mountains, his first-hand remembrance of Pearl Harbor, and the lifetime of applying the lessons he learned there. Ambition-wise, he was married to the right woman. While caring for their four school age children, Steve’s mother graduated from Marshall University in West Virginia and went on to earn a Master’s Degree from the University of Virginia. Both parents instilled in Steve their philosophy that “Where you start hasn’t anything to do with where you wind up.”
Steve graduated from UVA in 1977 and succeeded in a variety of careers including transportation sales, real estate and contracting. During his years in transportation sales, he specialized in buses and first demonstrated his great interest in larger civic issues. He was instrumental in early pilot programs testing the use of seat belts in school buses. While working full-time, he volunteered in a uniformed, unarmed, non-sworn position with the Richmond Police Department for 16 years. This led him to his current part-time position as a Deputy Sheriff.
Steve and Kip met as next door neighbors in Richmond’s Fan District. Kip was drawn to the quality and integrity with which Steve was renovating and developing Fan property and Steve was impressed that his eighty–plus year old neighbor did his own repair work, often atop a high ladder. They became fast friends. Gradually, Kip drew Steve into his philanthropic activities and Steve’s volunteer police work became a new window of information for Kip. Kip became a valued mentor to Steve and considered him the obvious choice to continue the Foundation’s work, encouraging him, when the time came, to imprint his own stamp on the Foundation’s ever-expanding desire to make a difference.
Steve has done so as the Foundation continues to evolve. His police work influenced him to create discretionary funds for Victim Witness Coordinators in New Kent, Charles City, Caroline, and York Counties, a niche that didn’t previously exist, but one that fills a vital social need. Other initiatives Steve has introduced to the Foundation include citizenship awards in New Kent County schools, anti-bullying campaigns offering cash prizes in poster and visual media competition, and funding discretionary accounts for New Kent County elementary schools to ensure that children in need have adequate clothing, school supplies, and the ability to go on field trips. Every initiative or program was personal in Kip’s eyes. So it is with Steve: “I was bullied in school and I well know how it feels to not be able to participate in something for one reason or another. Every child we can help strengthens that child, the school, and the community at large. Our small successes are just as important and far-reaching as our larger programs.”
Steve has a maxim which guides his stewardship of the Foundation. Steve's maxim, that "even a small amount of money, carefully placed, at just the needed moment, can have great impact," is a cornerstone of the foundation's fundraising. Everyone can help.