'Game changer': $100 million gift given to Community Foundation

Published: May. 1, 2018 at 11:00 AM CDT
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The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region has received a "game-changer" $100 million estate gift to help causes in Northeast Wisconsin.

The gift comes from the estate of David L. Nelson and his wife, Rita.

It's among the largest gifts in Wisconsin and the entire United States, according to the Community Foundation.

The fund is expected to award $4.5 million in grants each year by 2021.

“This is the most generous gift ever for our region, and it is a game-changer,” said Curt Detjen, Community Foundation president and CEO. “It will be a catalyst for addressing community needs today, but also for investing in exciting opportunities for future generations.”

David Nelson helped manage companies that published newspapers in Appleton and Green Bay. He then invested in radio stations and other businesses.

Married for 73 years, David and Rita died within five moths of each other in 2017.

The David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund benefits parks, recreation and waterways; education; health care; community services and community centers; and historic preservation.

In the first year, the endowment is offering $3.5 million in grant money to eight different recipients.

That money will fund a boardwalk across the Fox River from Little Chute to Kaukauna.

The St. Joseph Parish at St. Norbert College will receive $15,000 to construct a prayer garden. Rita Nelson was a regular at mass.

"I think this gift will help inspire many because of the prayerful space she is providing for our students and for our parishioners that was such a part of her heart and is going to be at the heart of the college as well," says Father Jim Baraniak.

The largest gift for 2018 is more than $2 million for finishing the Grassy Island Range Lights in Green Bay. David Nelson had helped with the project.

"These lighthouses were built in 1872, and they were doomed for destruction two different times, and the last time Dave and I picked them up and saved them," says Merlin Baenen.

An advisory board was formed to select future recipients of grant money.