Too good to pass up

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Thursday night in Trenton -- just before the start of the Memorial Day weekend -- 34 people from 10 different Nebraska towns turned out to talk about community foundations.

The discussion started at 7:40 p.m. and was supposed to wrap up by 9 p.m., but it was close to 10 before the session adjourned. Unlike so many meetings of this kind, the lateness of the hour wasn't because the speakers were long-winded, or because the content was dry and boring.

No, just the opposite. When the meeting came to a close, community representatives were primed and pumped, ready to return to their hometowns to launch funding campaigns for community projects.

As the capper for the evening, the vice-chair of the Nebraska Community Foundation, Kathy Thuman, put forth a challenge to the Trenton citizens.

Because of her belief in the transforming effect of a community foundation, Kathy, a banker, told Trentonites she personally would pay all the start-up expenses for establishing a community foundation in Trenton. Beyond that, Kathy issued a $5,000 challenge, offering to donate the full five grand if a similar amount is raised by the community within a year's time. And, lastly, to get the fund-raising rolling, Kathy announced that her father, Roger Thuman, would start the fund-raising with a $1,000 gift.

Too good an offer to pass up? It sounded that way as the meeting concluded, with a dozen representatives of the Trenton community abuzz with talk about the possibilities of a foundation.

So what is the big deal about community foundations, and why did representatives from Stratton, Wauneta, Arapahoe, Palisade, McCook, Maywood, Imperial, Indianola and Lincoln join the Trentonites for a discussion this close to the Memorial Day weekend?

There are a couple of reasons. First, towns and villages throughout Nebraska -- including those in the southwest corner -- are at a critical point in their history. With population decreasing, many rural communities lack the resources necessary to make needed improvements. And, yet, ironically, there is a considerable amount of assets in the hands of those who remain in rural Nebraska.

Take Red Willow County for example. In this county -- which had a population of 11,448 in 2000 -- it is estimated that an average of $31.5 million a year will pass from one generation to the next for each of the next 50 years.

If just 5 percent of that wealth would be left for community projects, more than $50 million would be generated in the next half century.

The towns of Southwest Nebraska have provided us with our livelihoods. They have educated our children, and provided the community structure for the essentials and the extras of life.

It's time to think about sharing. Thanks, Kathy, for your gift and your challenge. Together, we, the people of Southwest Nebraska, have the potential to make a difference in the quality of life in our communities.

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