St. Anthony: Investors' gift pays healthy dividends

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Tim Thorpe, executive director, left, and Penny Winton, founder and funder of Pathways, at Pathways in South Minneapolis.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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The late Mike Winton was a savvy investor who knew how to make money.

Yet Winton and his wife, Penny, who survives him, are best known as unassuming and generous philanthropists who delighted in giving it away.

Gifts from the Wintons that ranged into the millions nurtured art museums, restored churches, built affordable housing and staked the United Way.

Mike Winton, an accomplished Ivy Leaguer who served in the CIA in the 1950s, had confidence but not cockiness. He had a heart for the poor and the infirm. He knew that good health is the paramount possession and our legacy is the most important thing we leave behind.

Winton died in 2008 at 79, about 25 years after he was struck with a blood cancer that nearly killed him early. He credited the extra years to the marvels of modern medicine as well as the “complementary stuff” that included diet, and spiritual and psychological training.

“Mike had an interesting time doing it,” recalled Penny Winton with a chuckle. “And his doctors supported it.”

The Wintons had the resources to explore and pursue complementary medicine, which increasingly has become mainstream around the country.

Grateful for Mike Winton’s ability to manage his disease, the Wintons, in consultation with friends and health advisers, opened Pathways for this community in 1988 in an old house near Uptown.

The Wintons invested several million dollars over the years, including a new building and gardens, so that at no cost, thousands of hurting people could learn to heal their bodies, minds and spirits from volunteer health professionals, therapists and others through a variety of health, wellness and nutrition programs, art therapy, energy healing, massage, meditation and reflection.

“Every illness is a spiritual crisis and an opportunity for spiritual growth,” Dr. Greg Plotnikoff of the Institute for Health and Healing once said of Pathways. “The best answers are often found rather than given. As Pathways supports the best of Western medicine, it provides multiple ways for finding answers that best fit one’s experience.”

Tim Thorpe, a former businessman who took over as executive director of Pathways in 2008, points to independent studies that Pathway’s “Renewing Life” and other programs help participants coping with chronic illness or trauma shift from states of crisis to well being, better manage pain and anxiety and live with confidence.

Pathways, a complementary-medicine pioneer, also has demonstrated that it can be sustainable and help drive economical change in health care.

The Wintons instructed the board that their support, often up to half of the annual budget, wouldn’t last forever, and it has slowly declined to less than $50,000 annually of an $800,000 budget, including about $350,000 worth of donated services from volunteer health providers.

Under Thorpe, Pathways has started to generate revenue from retreats and programs it offers through the likes of Fairview Health, Ebenezer senior housing and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Pathways also boasts a growing group of individual and institutional supporters.

Before he died, Mike Winton led a $1 million capital campaign to function as a Pathways reserve, “so when Penny turns off the faucet or in case we hit a rough patch, that will help us get through lean years while we keep our mission intact,” Thorpe said.

“Pathways is a magical place,” said Rhesa Schwartz, a Pathway’s participant who suffered from the emotional pain of a divorce compounded by horrific back pain after she was hit in her vehicle by a drunken driver.

“I got physical and emotional work done at Pathways,” said Schwartz, who now volunteers as a healing-touch provider. “I’ve been volunteering since 2007. Pathways helped me when I was feeling really alone and was in debilitating pain. It led me on the path to what I do now as an vocation.”

In a discussion about philanthropy 15 years ago, Mike Winton said: “It’s one thing to write a check. It’s quite another to really get your emotions involved. That’s where the payoff is, in these relationships and with the people that are really impacted by some of the things we’re involved in.”

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