The Felburn Foundation—Small but Mighty

Part of the Dugout Canoes: Paddling the Americas exhibit: Photo by Meagan Gumpert

The Felburn Foundation has its modest headquarters in Ocala and is a small charitable nonprofit with a big impact. Although the foundation is not widely known, you’ve likely benefited from a project they have supported at some point in your travels. 

J. Phil Felburn was a successful businessman and philanthropist who believed in the preservation of natural resources and saw education as the key to meeting this goal. He established the foundation in 1978. Management was later passed to his daughter Ellie Schiller, who actively funded many projects until her passing in 2009.

Guy Marwick assumed the role of executive director and remains in that position today. He works with board members Larry White and Kemp Floyd, and office manager Julie Hendrix. The team manages the investments with the skill of a surgeon and does amazing things with the interest.

The foundation operates on three basic beliefs: acquire, protect and perpetually maintain areas of natural significance; provide educational facilities and research funds in nature related fields; and create an interest in the public toward the protection of sensitive and endangered natural areas.

Since 2009 alone, $24,603,370 has been spent on efforts large and small. 

The foundation, for example, has been a major benefactor of the Silver River Museum. Major contributions include design and construction of the Felburn Research Library building, two exhibit wings housing historic displays and our newest exhibit, Dugout Canoes: Paddling the Americas. It also helped build two log cabins in the Pioneer Village, purchase a museum tour boat, convert exhibit lighting to LEDs, create a holographic mammoth exhibit and fund the relocation, to museum grounds, and restoration of the Silver Springs School, a historic one-room schoolhouse used by Black students during segregation. The foundation also contributed $400,000 to establish the Silver River Museum endowment account.

Foundation projects include building libraries and educational facilities; support for Marion County Public Schools and science education, environmental research at the Florida Greenways and Trails; and purchasing wild lands to be saved from development.

For years, the Felburn team has made positive impacts across Marion County and beyond. Swaths of sensitive coastline along the Gulf of Mexico (including Three Sisters Springs near Crystal River), waterfalls in the Carolinas, caves in Georgia and springs in Kentucky have been purchased so they can be enjoyed for generations. 

The Felburn Foundation also has funded efforts to protect endangered animals as far away as Africa (elephants, rhinoceroses and great apes), Australia (habitat restoration and protection for koalas) and the Columbia River in Washington state

We owe thanks to the Felburn Foundation for helping make Marion County a better place to live, helping to teach us the value of nature, saving places we can all enjoy and giving endangered critters a chance. Mr. Felburn would be proud. OS

Scott Mitchell is a field archaeologist, scientific illustrator and director of the Silver River Museum & Environmental Education Center, located at 1445 NE 58th Ave., Ocala, inside the Silver River State Park. To learn more, go to silverrivermuseum.com.

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