Ronda Graff

Community Connections

News and views from the McCook Community Foundation Fund


Support — large and small — important to thriving communities

Thursday, September 14, 2023
1954 McCook High School yearbook

It is official. McCook and Southwest Nebraska is the recipient of one of the largest financial gifts in recent memory.

Jim Lee, a 1954 McCook High School graduate, left $5 million in donations to several non-profit organizations including the McCook Community Foundation Fund, the Community Hospital Health Foundation, the McCook YMCA, the McCook Educational Foundation and the Overland Trails Council, which oversees the Boy Scouts in Southwest Nebraska.

This donation will make a long-term impact on these organizations as well as affect hundreds, if not thousands, of residents for generations to come.

To be honest, when the notifications from the Jim Lee Estate began to arrive in Southwest Nebraska, nearly everyone was wondering: Who is Jim Lee?

Jim Gustafson with the Nebraska Community Foundation worked with Lee periodically and knew about the planned gifts for McCook and Southwest Nebraska. Gustafson said Lee wanted people scratching their heads upon receiving the news, wondering who he was and trying to figure out what to do with the donation.

And that is what happened. All of those previously mentioned organizations started from a place of bewilderment, trying to figure out who Jim Lee was and perhaps more importantly, what he would want to happen with his donation.

After months of research and conversations, we learned Jim Lee was an unassuming man who liked investing and it paid off for him during his lifetime. He invested in his hometown during his lifetime, doing it anonymously. And upon his death, he continues to invest in his hometown, with this very generous donation.

Lee was not one to have his name shouted from the rooftop. Instead, he quietly went about his business, making a difference before and after his death.

All his previous donations to MCFF were done anonymously. He liked the challenge grants that MCFF conducted periodically, starting with the Harpst Challenge in 2012 through the Sehnert Challenge, which wrapped up in 2021. The appeal of challenge grants is that small donations are made larger by a “challenge” from a donor. Challenge grants let more people be involved and show their support at the same time.

Lee was a regular donor to all of these organizations during his lifetime.

When asked how Lee was connected to the Boy Scouts, Overland Trails Director David Ploud said it was as simple as Lee periodically having lunch with an Overland Trails board member because it was important to him. Lee also made regular financial gifts to the Boys Scouts on an annual basis, but again he chose to remain anonymous until he died.

About this most recent donation, Plond added, “This is a game changer for them.”

Reading through the list of organizations that benefitted from the Lee Estate gift, you get a sense of what Jim Lee had a passion for, what he supported, and what he viewed as making a difference in the community.

And that is something that translates to all of us.

Support what gets you excited, what makes you happy, what you feel will make the most difference. Take a moment to think about your passions, your hobbies, your interests.

After all, what is important is what takes your time, your talent and your treasure.

Supporting what is important to you does not require a million-dollar donation. It is giving of your time to an organization. It is lending your expertise to a cause. And yes, it could be giving of your resources. And there are many options there.

Southwest Nebraska Big Give is Nov. 2, where you can choose to financially support nearly three dozen non-profit organizations from Curtis to Cambridge, Stratton to Maywood, and everywhere in between including McCook. Those donations help with the day-to-day operations of those organizations and improvements that may not happen without Big Give.

On the other side are planned gifts such as the Jim Lee Donation, which will make a long-term impact on the community. The McCook Philanthropy Council, which consists of local foundations and non-profits, is focusing on Five to Thrive, which encourages leaving five percent of your assets to your community upon your passing so that your hometown can continue to thrive.

At the end of the day, each of us must choose what is important to us, determine how we want to spend our days, what we will dedicate our time, talents and treasure

Although he lived in Hastings when he died, Jim Lee decided that his hometown of McCook, Nebraska, was important and deserved his support. His generosity will live on for generations.

There are so many ways to say thank you but we can start by rolling up our sleeves, getting involved and making things happen. And we can follow Jim Lee’s example of working together to make McCook and Southwest Nebraska an even better place to call home.

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