Tanny Crane – Change Maker

Crane Group CEO and philanthropist Tanny Crane knows that generating true change is tough work. Fortunately for Columbus, she’s up to the task.

Writing the check is the easy part.

Sure, finding the cash is important, but it’s the follow-through that’s key: gathering the right people, building the right teams, and crafting plans to ensure change is attainable and, most critically, sustainable.

As one of Columbus’ most visible stewards, Tanny Crane knows this. She understands the importance of being present, literally rolling up one’s sleeves and pitching in.

The family business was established by Tanny’s grandfather, Robert S. Crane, on the city’s south side in 1947. Since joining the company in 1987 when the Cranes were still known primarily for manufacturing plastics, Tanny has led the charge on a number of notable achievements and acquisitions. Today, Crane Group holds a diverse portfolio of five operating businesses, hedge funds, and investments in sports teams.

Between running the business, raising four children and, most recently, becoming a grandmother, she’s made a name for herself as one of the city’s most important philanthropists.

“My mom and dad always said, ‘This community has been so good to us, we have a responsibility to give back,” says Tanny, president and CEO of Crane Group. “Now certainly, that can mean financial resources. But it’s also our time.”

She’s dedicated her time to several boards— including those of the Columbus Partnership, The Ohio State University Foundation, FutureReady Columbus and I Know I Can, an organization helping Columbus students pursue a college education. In 1999, she ran the United Way of Central Ohio campaign (25 years after her father did the same), and she’s participated in Pelotonia since the event’s inception (yes, the full 180-mile ride).

Though many causes are close to her heart, Tanny’s focus in the last few years has been on the community in which her family made its mark.

“Our commitment to the south side is multifaceted,” she says. “Number one, our company grew up there. From 1987 on, I drove through there every day to work, down Fairwood Avenue, past Livingston Avenue.”

Like many urban communities across the nation, the south side—an area bound by Livingston Avenue to the north, Alum Creek to the east, the Scioto to the west and State Route 104 to the south—has suffered from debilitating levels of joblessness, poverty and violence.

In 2012, Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman decided the best path forward would be one of collaboration; he was seeking allies in the fight against the neighborhood’s decline, and Tanny was one of the first to heed the call.

With longtime friend and Donatos Chairwoman of the Board Jane Grote Abell, she focused her energy on a historic school building: the 104-year-old Reeb Avenue Elementary.

“I could never have known how much time I’d spend there,” Tanny says, but the two women spearheaded the fundraising of $12.5 million to transform the building into a hub of hope on the south side.

The center—a space for community members to gather and receive essential services—is now home to more than a dozen nonprofits, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus, Eastway Behavioral Healthcare, Godman Guild, St. Stephen’s Community House, Alvis House and Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Within its walls, residents will find adult education and job training services, activities for youth, family- planning assistance, addiction-recovery resources and opportunities to connect with neighbors. The South Side Learning and Development Center also moved in.

There’s a gym where representatives from the local YMCA teach classes and a fresh market where neighbors can purchase produce at a subsidized cost.

Oh, and at the on-site cafe, the fare rivals the city’s high-end establishments.

“Our neighbors, businessmen, volunteers… everyone eats here together,” Tanny says of Roots Cafe, located on the center’s ground floor.

The cafe employs all sorts of people, including volunteers who use their shift to pay for their own meals later. Right now, Tanny say, five young men serving time in a juvenile correctional facility are working in the restaurant.

“They’re some of the most amazing young men I’ve ever met,” she says.

Tanny stops in at the center three or four times a week.

“Reeb has just soaked up my time; it’s become a labor of love,” she says. “Idle time is no good for me; it fuels me to be out in the community. You’ve got to lean in—to really go after it.”

In September, center tenants and community members celebrated the center’s first birthday. This is about more than saving a building, Tanny notes; it’s about revitalizing a community. And, after one year, the team’s beaming with pride.

In April, she and Jane Grote Abell received the Columbus Foundation’s Spirit of Columbus Award which recognizes individuals who have exhibited exemplary community spirit.

“It’s important that we demonstrate to our communities that women can give. We’re going to make change, but it’s not tomorrow,” Tanny says. “We have to hold hands and commit to this.”

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