Dale Says

October 21, 2008

Bequests from beyond

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Dale @ 9:53 am

Note:  This article was published in The American Legion Magazine in November, 2008. 

As a boy growing up in the early 1900s in Baker City, Oregon, Leo Adler’s father advised him to forget about college.  “Let those other boys go, and you stay behind and work,” he counseled his son. “You will be four years ahead of them.”  Leo followed his father’s advice and sold magazines on a street in Baker City.  He worked diligently and eventually developed a seven-state empire with 2,000 outlets and annual sales of more than three million magazines.  When he died, he left virtually all of his money to the communities of Baker City and North Powder, Oregon.  Over the past three decades his bequest has helped fund numerous community projects and (ironically) provided dozens of college scholarships. 

Leo Adler’s generosity has made a significant difference to an untold number of people in northeast Oregon, all because of the thoughtful action of an ordinary man.  And he’s not alone. 

There were no pretensions to Tom Buckley, a wheat farmer in Western Nebraska who appeared to be just getting by. He was typically seen driving an old car and dressed in bib coveralls.  But in his will Mr. Buckley left an estate of more than $7 million to the small community of Chappell, Nebraska.  Today, the trust set up in his name dispenses over $600,000 each year to rural Nebraska communities, providing college scholarships and support to local community projects like nursing homes, fire stations, and sports teams. 

Leo’s and Tom’s stories are heart-warming examples of the type of legacies that have been left to communities throughout the U.S.  Many of these benefactors were ordinary, nondescript citizens who led quiet lives and didn’t appear to have a lot of money.  But in their wills, they left part of what they had to help others.   

Is there a town or organization you would like to help after you’re gone – maybe the community where you grew up, or a school or group that means a lot to you?   

An enormous transfer of wealth (as much as $41 trillion, according to one study) is expected to take place over the next fifty years as the Baby Boomer generation ages.  That’s an incredible amount of money, and even a small portion of it could do an amazing amount of good for America’s communities. 

You don’t have to be rich to leave a community bequest; there are many ways to donate, and many examples of people who have helped by leaving their house, or property, to help future generations. 

Dacie Moses is an example of someone who donated what she could to a cause she cared about.  Dacie, a long-time employee at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, was known for inviting students to her house for cookies and conversation. In her will she donated her house to Carleton College.  Today, two students live there each year, and her house is a favored gathering spot for students to bake cookies, share brunch, or attend music rehearsal sessions.

Mary Edwards of Grandby, Connecticut cared deeply about her hometown and was determined to help preserve its rural character. In her will, she donated land her family owned, known locally as “The Mountain,” to the Granby Land Trust.  Mary also wanted to make sure her gift was permanent, so she and her attorney structured a fund to pay interest income from her estate to the Land Trust, thereby supporting in perpetuity the costs of preserving the open space.  There are several options for making a bequest, including: 

Create a private endowed foundation Give to a community foundationEstablish a supporting organization

Develop a business or corporate foundation 

Each has advantages and disadvantages and all have tax implications.  Contact an attorney or tax accountant to discuss the best method for you.  Resources for creating a charitable bequest: 

Association of Small Foundations (www.smallfoundations.org)

Council on Foundations (www.cof.org) Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org) 

National Center for Family Philanthropy (www.ncfp.org)

Forum of Regional Association of Grantmakers (www.givingforum.org)

Foundation Source (www.foundationsource.com)

Fidelity Charitable Services (www.charitablegift.org) 

About the author: 

Dale Fehringer is a freelance writer and editor. His articles on people, places, and contemporary culture have been published in a variety of magazines and newspapers.  He lives in San Francisco, where he can be reached at 415.602.6116 or by email at dalefehringer@hotmail.com. 


  1. Great article Dale. I haven’t watched the evening news in years because there are never enough of these types of articles. Hope all is well.

    Comment by Dan — December 5, 2008 @ 6:24 am

  2. Thanks, Dan! I’m glad you liked the article. I grew up in the small town that Tom Buckley (in the article) left his money to, and it (and he) has done a world of good for a lot of people.

    Please pass along the address to my website to your friends — I will continue to post good news stories there.

    Happy Holidays to you, Dan!

    Comment by Dale — December 16, 2008 @ 11:31 am

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