Donor Spotlight – Biella Foundation

Mart Bert

The Biella Foundation

The Biella Foundation was created by Mart Bert, an Italian immigrant born in Italy in 1914 and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents as a youngster. Mart grew up in West Seattle and earned a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Washington. He worked in Aero Engineering during WW II in Southern California. Mart returned to Seattle after the war and started in the real estate business. He eventually built and acquired numerous apartment buildings throughout the City of Seattle. In 1968 he designed and built the Panorama House, a seventeen-story, 177-unit apartment building at the corner of University Street and Boren Avenue. He passed away of natural causes in 2009 at the age of ninety-four.

Mart was disabled after retiring from the building industry, and with the help of a caregiver, he still managed to travel extensively. Mart was an interesting character. He loved and cherished his Italian heritage but was an American through and through. After becoming disabled, he used much of his time to scan the newspapers and TV for stories about individuals and families suffering personal hardships and then assisted them with anonymous gifts, usually in the form of a check. He also often extended his personal giving to communities suffering from natural or human-caused disasters. Mart’s lifestyle was conservative in style and economical in execution. He believed in education, hard work, and self-sufficiency and had great empathy for the unfortunate and disadvantaged.

The Biella Foundation was incorporated in the State of Washington in 1988 with an initial gift from Mart and operated on a limited basis until 2015. Mart passed away in February of 2009, and several years after Mart’s passing, the Biella Foundation became fully funded. Mart strongly believed in learning, and his interest in education and supporting young people to lead good lives has been honored with annual Biella Foundation grants to all 34 Washington State community colleges for student scholarships and emergency aid.

In 2015, the Biella Foundation had a fortuitous meeting with Elizabeth Pluhta, the former South Seattle College Foundation (SSCF) administrator. At her suggestion, the Biella Foundation and the SSCF started an arrangement where the SSCF would accept the total grant funds, hold them for disbursement until each college made its annual report, and handle the general administration of these annual grants to the 34 Washington State community colleges. This worked well for them as they had a small staff. Working through the South Seattle College Foundation, they were able to effectively make grants to all 34 of the Washington State community colleges. Their grants to each community college started at $10,000 and are now $11,000 per college per year.

Following Mr. Bert’s wishes, the Biella Foundation focuses its annual charitable distributions in the areas of community service, education, homelessness, and helping others in the local community who have pressing needs. When you realize the Biella scholarship grants have been given annually since 2015, it means the Biella Foundation has given close to $2.7 million to support community college students in Washington State and has changed the lives of over 2,000 students. That’s Amore!