Stewart Bainum Sr. didn’t set out to build a legacy. As a high school student during the Great Depression, he had only one goal — to earn money to complete his education at his boarding school in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Jobs were scarce in Ohio, so with $3 in his pocket and a cardboard suitcase in his hand, he hitchhiked 400 miles to Washington, D.C., where he found work as a plumber’s assistant.

After earning enough to pay his tuition, he graduated from high school in Ohio in 1938, then returned to D.C., where his persistence propelled his success. He started a plumbing business, built a real estate development company and founded ManorCare, a universally acclaimed nursing home company. In 1957, he also built his first hotel and later established Choice Hotels International, one of the world’s largest hotel franchising companies.


Mr. Bainum’s success in business was paralleled by a lifelong commitment to philanthropy. Based on his personal experience, he believed strongly in education as a pathway out of poverty. In 1968, he and his wife, Jane, founded what is now the Bainum Family Foundation. Originally known as The College Foundation and later as the Commonweal Foundation, the Foundation became one of the first local sponsors of the highly regarded “I Have A Dream” program, promising college scholarships upon completion of high school to nearly 70 rising seventh-grade students in an impoverished neighborhood in southeast D.C.

Over the years, the Foundation provided scholarships and other educational opportunities and supports to thousands of children, before shifting its strategy in 2015 to focus on investments benefiting infants and toddlers.

Although Mr. Bainum passed away in February 2014, his legacy lives on through his Foundation and his family. Today, the Bainum Family Foundation continues to combine proven expertise with a passion for supporting the whole child to help all children thrive.

Learn more about our history with this interactive timeline here.


Family Philanthropy Initiatives

Four generations of Bainum family members — from the founding generation through their great-grandchildren — are involved in continuing Stewart Bainum Sr.’s legacy through a range of family philanthropy initiatives that have both local and global impact.

Supporting Education in Developing Countries
Fighting Hunger and Poverty in D.C.