In Belle Yaffe’s (BS ’70) Native American tradition, when one wishes to commemorate an event, the celebrant engages in a custom known as a “give away.” Instead of receiving gifts, Belle and husband, Harry, are commemorating their 50th wedding and graduation anniversaries by establishing the Belle and Harry Yaffe Family Pathways for American Indians Fund, designed to recruit and provide financial and support resources for students from Minnesota tribal colleges as they move on from two-year to pursue four-year degrees.
“I learned from my parents, who gave so much. So I learned from the best.”
The generosity of Belle’s parents, Charles and Mary Belgrade, served as a great model for her throughout their lives. In their earlier years, they gave freely of their time, and later in life with their philanthropy. “Mom and dad never forgot their roots having grown up on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota and having been wrested from their parents to attend Government Mission Schools,” Belle says. “Mom always made sure her friends and family ‘back home’ had Christmas gifts, and dad provided jobs and opportunities for Native men from their reservation in his fledgling construction business. I learned from my parents, who gave so much. When they died, the church was overflowing both times. People came up to our family members and said, ‘she was my mother too.’ Or ‘I worked for your dad. He helped me with my business.’ So I learned from the best.”
Belle’s parents left Turtle Mountain in the early 1950s, and finally settled in Minneapolis—the Franklin Avenue corridor—as it seemed a good place to make a living and raise a family.
Over the years, what her dad started as a carpentry labor company flourished into a successful commercial real estate development business. “He paid off a mortgage of a stately man-sion in South Minneapolis which became transitional housing for Native American men who completed sobriety treatment, which facilitated their transition back into the community,” Harry says. Charles Belgrade also was one of the founding donors for the Tur-tle Mountain Reservation wellness center, endowed a scholarship at the Mayo Clinic Medical School for a Native American student, and he and his wife established a charitable foundation, which is administered and whose board of directors is composed of his children. “Having come from very humble beginnings, mom and dad have left a remarkable legacy of philanthropy,” Belle says.
Harry worked for Belle’s father as a chief financial officer and later became a partner in the business. He also has a generous streak much like Charles, Belle says.
After graduating with a degree in education, Belle worked for several years as a special education teacher and later obtained a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and worked for nonprofit agencies as well as established a private counseling practice.
Belle and Harry’s new Family Pathways for American Indians Fund joins a list of their other philanthropic endeavors, including the Harry and Belle Yaffe Family Fund, which provides scholar-ships for American Indian students across CEHD.
Story by Kevin Moe | Photos courtesy of the Yaffe family | Spring/Summer 2021