Established by J. Ralph and Patricia Corbett in 1955, the foundation awarded at least $70 million in support of education and the arts in Ohio and Kentucky over the last sixty years — including support for the Corbett Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Cincinnati, Corbett Tower in Cincinnati's Music Hall, the Corbett Theatre at Northern Kentucky University, and the J. Ralph Corbett Pavilion at the Riverbend Music Center. Recent grant recipients include the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the musical theater program at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, and the K-12 School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati. The final distribution of grants has been determined by the foundation's three-member board of trustees, and the foundation's offices will close this week.
The Corbetts, who made their fortune from the NuTone door chime company, were hands-on philanthropists whose loyal support kept many of the area's arts organizations from folding or their facilities from falling into disrepair. A typical gift was the $2 million they gave for construction of the Riverbend Music Center in 1984 — a gift that helped provide an ongoing revenue source for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a popular regional venue for all types of music.
"There isn't an aspect of our organization that hasn't been impacted by the Corbetts and the Corbett Foundation," said CSO president Trey Devey. "They were absolute geniuses in how they built something and had an idea, and many years later, we're still benefiting from those ideas."
The dissolution of the foundation had been planned for years, in accordance with the wishes of the Corbetts, who had always intended for the foundation to close after their deaths. J. Ralph Corbett died in 1988, while Patricia Corbett lived another two decades.
"They had never wanted the foundation to continue after they were gone. But the market treated them very well," said Corbett Foundation executive director Karen McKim. "I have so many letters in the files that say, 'This is our last letter, we're going out of business, we've spent ourselves out.' It never happened."