Marvin Ronning Fund

“Marvin made people feel special,” says Kath Connolly, a longtime friend of Marvin Ronning, who died suddenly in November 2022 after a career devoted to Rhode Island’s nonprofit sector.

Marvin came to New England in the late 1980s to work at the Dartmouth Children’s Museum. At the time, Kath was working at what would become the Providence Children’s Museum. “We connected,” she said. “We shared adventures, a quirky sense of humor, and a commitment to civic life. He became family.”

Since 2010, Marvin had been a senior administrator at the Rhode Island Free Clinic where he built partnerships with every higher education institution in the state to ensure the most vulnerable people had the highest quality care. He built a dental facility, grew the AmeriCorps program, and guided the clinic through the pandemic. “When COVID happened, he showed up every day with a determination to support patients, a smile, and his bow tie,” she said. “It was a frightening time, and he worked extremely hard to ensure that people were cared for.”

Throughout his career, Marvin was committed to the transformative power of education. At Big Picture Company he supported a national network of innovative public schools, and at his death he was Board Chair of The Learning Community, a K-8 school in Central Falls. He advanced environmental education through work with the Sloop Providence, Herreshoff Marine Museum, and by helping Save the Bay plan and build a new marine science center in Providence. He served on boards and committees at dozens of organizations including New Urban Arts, Social Enterprise Greenhouse, and the United Way, and lectured at RI College, URI, Roger Williams, and Brown.

Born with a rare heart condition, Marvin was intent on making every day as magical as possible. “Whether it was an average Saturday or a moment of need, he showed up enthusiastically and offered his enthusiasm to others,” Kath said. “He was magnetic.”

Marvin died a few weeks before a long-awaited trip to Morocco to mark his 60th birthday, but his friends took his ashes on one last adventure.

“He was so generous—not because he had wealth, but because he understood that what we have—emotionally and practically—is better shared. That’s what it means to live in community,” Kath said. “By creating an endowed fund at the Rhode Island Foundation, we can honor his spirit in perpetuity. It is a small way to keep Marvin’s generosity with us.”