Our $30,000 fundraiser in Greene County was startled when we got a $500,000 donation!

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Feb. 4, 2022 — In an extraordinary and long life of 104 years, Alice Hamilton Walters, of Jefferson, had already become a legend.  She’d donated generously to several public fundraising campaigns over the past 20 years.  And for a half-century or longer, she’d been a leading community volunteer, especially with Iowa State University Extension’s Greene County operations, the 4-H programs at both the county and state levels, and in Jefferson with the schools and at the First United Methodist Church .

But now after her death last June 22, the probating of her estate is underway in Greene County District Court in Jefferson.  What’s immediately clear is that Alice Walters will now forever be regarded as beyond mere legend.  Is there some kind of public beatification we can consider?

We’ve learned that her total estate is valued “a little north of $2 million,” said the estate’s attorney David Morain, of Jefferson.

Alice Walters in Bell Tower Festival parade 2015.JPG

Alice Walters, shown here riding in the 2015 Bell Tower Festival parade in Jefferson, after she’d been presented the Greene County “Impact Award” for her tremendous service to the area.

Of that total, Morain said:

–“Almost one-fourth of it” – he estimates that between $475,000 and $495,000 – will go to the Greene County Community Foundation, which Walters had helped create in 2006, and which each year gives grants of up to $35,000 each to non-profit organizations in the county.

–The same amount will go to the Jefferson-Scranton Community Schools Foundation, which helps provide scholarships to graduates of the Greene County Community Schools.  The foundation still carries the name of the earlier form of the public school system serving much of the southern two-thirds of the county.

–Another one-fourth of the estate will be divided this way, Morain said: “Two-thirds of that quarter will go to Iowa Public Television and one-third to Iowa Public Radio.”  Walters, who had been a widow since 1943, often said that IPT and IPR “have been my companions for the last 60 years.”

–The other one-fourth of the estate will be divided among Walters’ great-nephews and great-nieces.

In addition, two direct bequests that Walters ordered to be paid first are $10,000 to the First United Methodist Church of Jefferson and $25,000 to the Iowa State University Foundation for their scholarship funds.

In the probate process underway now, Morain said, “we’re figuring out what taxes and expenses need to be paid.”

Alice Walters, photo from her obituary, July 31 2021.jpg

Photo of Alice Walters, at the right, was published with her obituary.

Morain called Walters’ generosity after death “a very atypical gift. You don’t see people leaving gifts of this size that are mostly to the benefit of the general public.  But that’s very typical of Alice. She was a person who gave up so much of her time to serve the public and touch lives. And now all that will continue long after her death.”

You can read more about what Alice Walters was like by clicking here.

The reason I am writing this story is a little atypical, too.

Two months ago, the board of directors of the Greene County Community Foundation asked me to serve as chairman of one of their first actual fundraising campaigns.  They had decided to conduct an in-person campaign – instead of soliciting donations by mail – because they thought it would be an opportunity to remind Greene Countians what the community foundation is all about, how it receives and invests donations, and then awards grants to non-profit organizations here.

Most of the money that the community foundation receives is from gaming receipts at Wild Rose Casino & Resort in Jefferson. The non-profit Grow Greene County Gaming Corp., which holds the license for the privately-owned casino, shares in that business’ profits. Each year, the Grow Greene County group allocates a certain amount for the community foundation – for 2022 that is $150,000.  Then Grow Greene County considers requests from non-profits for grants of more than $35,000, and the community foundation handles requests of $35,000 and less.

Casino receipts now do not help grow the community foundation’s endowment fund.  That grows on private donations, and it is that endowment that will sustain the community foundation for the long-term future, inspiring its motto “For good. Forever.” That endowment fund is now more than $950,000, before Alice Walters’ bequest. Each year, five percent of the endowment can be spent on local projects, in addition to whatever the allocation from Grow Greene County has been. So, the larger the endowment, the more support is available for local projects.

The community foundation’s board decided to operate the new fundraising campaign to build the endowment during the month of February.  They identified a goal of $30,000.  They hoped to reach it by finding 30 volunteers to have conversations with five people each about the foundation.  Those 150 conversations, the board figured, will help people come to new understanding and appreciation of the foundation.

I wrote a check of $1,000 to the foundation for my own donation, in hopes that many others will match it – or give whatever they can afford.

That was an easy decision for me.  Why?  I’m a member of the board of directors of the Greene County Historical Society, and over the last 15 years, our society has received nine different grants from the Greene County Community Foundation totaling $41,213.  I don’t know what would’ve happened to the historical society had we not received those grants for maintenance and improvement of our facilities. Board members of most other non-profit organizations around the county can tell the same story as I just did.

Alice Walters and kindergarten class in 2019.jpg

This photo from 2019 shows Alice Walters visiting a kindergarten class in the Greene County Community Schools after she’d knitted mittens for all of them. (Photo from the Facebook page of the school district.)

So, planning for the community foundation’s fundraising campaign was well underway when we first learned that it would be receiving a sizable donation from an estate.

“When I first became aware that there was a gift out there on the horizon, and it would be a sizable gift, I had no idea from whom or how sizable it’d be,” said Don Van Gilder, of Jefferson, who served as president of the community foundation the past two years.  “Holy cow! Now that we know the amount, we also know that Alice had to think a whole lot of our foundation and of Greene County itself.

“But I can remember back in 2005 and 2006 when we were starting the foundation, Alice gave $25,000 which we used as the local match so that we could also receive a $25,000 state grant from Endow Iowa,” Van Gilder continued.  “She said then that her gift ‘is not about me but what we can all do for Greene County.’ And this huge new gift from her seems to me to be all about getting others to think about what they might do.”

Another important early gift to the community foundation was a $50,000 insurance policy that the late Jefferson newspaper editor and publisher Fred Morain signed over. It’s interesting that David Morain, the attorney for the Walters estate, is the grandson of Fred Morain.

Community foundation board members and their fundraising campaign consultant Dave Sherry, of Boone, only fleetingly discussed calling off the February campaign to raise $30,000 for the endowment.

“When I first heard about Alice Walters’ gift, I thought it was just incredibly generous, showing such devotion to the county,” said Sherry.  “It didn’t make me worry about the future of our campaign at all.  Hopefully, it motivates people, and lets people see that to her, this was really important.”

After I thought briefly about it, I quickly concluded that calling off the campaign would actually be dis-honoring the great gift from Walters.  Instead, we should intensify our efforts, consider her gift a great challenge, give what we can, build the foundation’s endowment, and see all our non-profit organizations benefit on into perpetuity.

And thus, we will continue, and we have now named our effort the “I’m With Alice Campaign.”

All our volunteers and all who donate will receive sizable lapel buttons to wear.  The buttons will have a photo of Alice Walters in the middle, a line over the top saying “I’m with Alice!” and another line around the bottom that says “Greene County Community Foundation.”

Greene County Community Foundation buttons 2022.png

Here’s our button, designed by Jen Badger at ShineOn designs in Jefferson.

You can learn how to donate — even online — and receive your own “I’m with Alice!” button by going to this secure website: Donate – Greene County Community Foundation (forgreenecounty.org).  Or contact me directly.

“Two things we should all remember about Alice Walters,” said Karen Shannon, of Jefferson, the new president of the community foundation, “is how much she cared about Greene County, and that she was just as generous with her time as she was with her financial donations.  And while not everyone has a $2 million estate, we do all have some time we can volunteer to help all our organizations, just like Alice did.

“But when you think of the size of her gift, and how it will help us build our endowment fund, it means whatever donations the rest of us can donate will help do even bigger things for generations to come here. There will be great people in Greene County in the future who will really make it work.  They will do Alice proud.”

The writer can be reached by email at chuck@offenburger.com, or you can comment publicly on the story by using the handy form below here.

One thought on “Our $30,000 fundraiser in Greene County was startled when we got a $500,000 donation!

  1. This story and the accompanying one about Alice, are pure gold. And of course it turns out she was the sister of Carl Hamilton, one of my journalism mentors at ISU! The photo of her with the kindergarten class wearing the mittens she knitted for them is my favorite thing. I’m donating — I want one of those buttons. This is the kind-hearted and public spirited Iowa that I know still exists.s

    Allison Engel, Des Moines & Los Angeles

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