BY DANIEL CHANG, dchang@MiamiHerald.com
For nearly a quarter century, Ruth Shack has led an organization -- the Dade Community Foundation -- whose mission is broad and beneficent: giving money to enhance life in Miami-Dade County.
There's a lot of good still left to be done. But it will have to be accomplished without Shack, who said on Monday that she will step down as president of the foundation by the end of the year.
''I'm not saying the word retirement,'' said Shack, 77, who is not yet sure what she will do with her time and energy in 2010. ``I'm the kind of person will never retire.''
As president of Miami-Dade's only permanent endowment since 1985, Shack has helped steer nearly $110 million to causes such as education, poverty, social justice, religion, healthcare, and the arts.
She also presided over a monumental growth in the foundation's assets -- from about $4 million in 1985 to an estimated $167 million in 2007, pulled together through private donations and bequests, government grants and prudent investments.
While Shack is passionate about the many groups supported by the foundation, she is particularly pleased about one program that she hopes will pay benefits for Miami-Dade well into the future.
''The thing that distinguishes the foundation now is its emphasis on leadership,'' she said, referring specifically to The Miami Fellows, a two-year program that grooms candidates for civic leadership.
Shack said the foundation's mission is simple: ''Create community,'' she said. ``Bring people together. You can do that in the arts. You can do that in the environment, in education and the rest.''
As a three-term Miami-Dade commissioner from 1976 to 1984, Shack developed a reputation for leadership that did not kowtow to popular opinion.
She introduced the gay rights ordinance in December 1976, just after being elected to her first term. Within weeks, the singer Anita Bryant organized the group, Save Our Children, to fight the ordinance, which was repealed in June 1977.
In spring 1982 -- months before seeking reelection -- Shack became the first commissioner to publicly oppose a tax increase for a sports stadium, saying ``the real priorities in this community include the need for more jobs, the elimination of crime and completion of a balanced transit system.''
Former county manager Merrett Stierheim, who has mentored candidates from the foundation's leadership program, credits Shack as ``an outstanding community leader.''
Harvey Ruvin, clerk of the courts, who served on the commission alongside Shack, also recalls Shack's years as a commissioner. ''She was courageous. She was progressive. She was brilliant,'' he said.
Ruvin said he is equally impressed with Shack's leadership of the foundation.
''Because she did such a great job,'' he said, ``when she leaves it to go on to new challenges, it will survive because she's done a great job in establishing it.''
Shack, who told the foundation's board of trustees about her plans in November, said the next step is to form a search committee, and then likely hire an executive recruiting firm to begin the group's leadership transition.
''I want to be on to my next career,'' Shack said, ``whatever that may be.''
She will remain in Miami.
Photo: Dade Community Foundation President Ruth Shack and Richard Milstein, then the foundation board chairman, in 2005.