FLYING HIGH WITH RURAL PHILANTHROPY:
A North Dakota Primer on the Importance of Planned Giving
By John Glasgow, RSC Research Assistant, Monmouth, Illinois
Since the 1960’s, Colfax, North Dakota has prided itself as being the smallest community in the state with a public swimming pool, but a local man’s charitable gift, left to the area school district after his passing, shows the region to be just as remarkable for its philanthropic spirit.
Located just 20 miles south of Fargo, North Dakota, Richland #44 School District is a consolidated district which serves the small towns and farming families in the northern end of the county. With fewer than 300 students spread across two school buildings in Colfax and Abercrombie, Richland #44 School District typifies many rural schools with a steady or slowly declining enrollment, many families commuting to work in distant cities, and a fierce dedication to place.
“We are a big farming community; a lot of our kids have grown up on farms that have been passed down for generations. But we also have kids who parents commute to Fargo to work. So that creates an interesting dynamic,” says Richland #44 School District superintendent and principal of the junior and senior high school, Britney Gandhi.
Despite the differences the students and families of this small district may have, what unites them even more is the common devotion to their community.
Gandhi explains, “There’s such a pride in the school district. When the school district helps define the community, the level of pride is so high. Therefore, the alumni and the residents in the area want their kids to have the same experience they had. So, they give back in a number of ways, whether it's volunteering or donations, and the stadiums during home games are always packed even though we don’t have that many kids.”
The depths of local residents’ enthusiasm to give back to their home was made even more clear after the passing of lifelong resident Darrel Hendrickson in 2016. In an astounding act of rural philanthropy, in his will, Hendrickson donated $4.5 million to Richland #44 School District to be used for scholarships to graduating seniors.
For Gandhi, Mr. Hendrickson’s gift came as “a bit of a shock.”
“Here was a man that lived quite humbly, and the amount of the donation was a bit of a shock since he lived such a simple lifestyle…Darrel had no children, as far as I could tell, and he wasn’t overly involved in the school. He did grow up here locally and did have a farm and lived and worked here for most of his life. It was really a surprise to everybody; we just know he loved this area.”
Mr. Hendrickson and his mother moved back to Richland County in 1946, where he later graduated from high school in the county seat of Wahpeton in 1951. Even though Hendrickson himself had never attended Richland #44 School District, he was a “very dedicated farmer” in Colfax and was renowned for having “some of the best-looking fields around.” So much so, that in 1984, Hendrickson was awarded the Soil Conservation Award by the state of North Dakota. Remaining on his farm even past retiring in 1998, Hendrickson continued to be an active and engaged member of the Richland County community, holding various offices at his church, becoming a member of local social clubs, and participating in numerous local sports leagues.
Even with his passing, Mr. Hendrickson’s presence in the community is still felt. In addition to the scholarship program in Richland #44 School District, Hendrickson made charitable estate gifts to his lifelong church and the City of Colfax.
Reflecting on it all, Superintendent Gandhi explains how Mr. Hendrickson, along with the local community, “just has a belief in the school district and the future of the community, and his [Hendrickson’s] gift exemplifies that belief.”
Detailing the scholarship program established in Mr. Hendrickson’s honor, Gandhi said that Hendrickson’s estate had originally set aside funds for the school to sponsor a college scholarship program back in 2016, yet it wasn’t until this past year when the district learned about his donation. Not long after, the district quickly organized the Richland #44 School District Foundation to determine how to start this program.
With simple requirements to have attended Richland #44 School District for most of high school and to have plans to attend some post-secondary or vocational schooling, Gandhi and the Foundation are hoping no Richland Colt will have to worry about pursuing their goals of furthering their education.
Through this new program, starting with the class of 2019, every graduating senior from the district can apply for a $10,000 scholarship. If awarded, the funds would be evenly distributed across each year of the student’s program. Gandhi also states that applicants will have up to 6 years after graduation to apply for the scholarship.
Gandhi remarked how one of the challenges in designing this scholarship was determining if past graduates of Richland #44 School District would also be eligible to apply. The Foundation decided that, since Mr. Hendrickson first donated these funds four years ago, the graduating classes of 2016, 2017, and 2018 would also be able apply for a smaller scholarship amount.
Calculating the scholarship amounts and the number of potential applicants in the years to come, the Richland #44 School District Foundation determined there were enough funds to offer every graduating senior a full scholarship for the next 30 years.
“We definitely do think this scholarship is an encouragement [to go on to post-secondary school]. We have some kids considering trade schools, so we think this will be a motivating factor for them. Even for some kids who will graduate and not go to school right away, just knowing they have 6 years to use this money from their high school could push them to consider it down the road.”
This year alone, Gandhi noted, each one of Richland #44 School District's 26 graduating seniors applied for the scholarship.
In addition to the Darrel Hendrickson Scholarship, Gandhi shared how Richland #44 School District has received other outstanding accolades, including the elementary school being awarded the National Blue Ribbon Award in 2018 and one graduating senior this year announced as a Presidential Scholar.
Gandhi believes what underpins these efforts is the loyalty to place and a persistent dedication to volunteerism which area families hold dearly; “Volunteerism is huge, it is impressed upon our kids from both their family and the school.”
“Everywhere I’ve worked has had community support, but not to this level…Having worked in three school districts and five schools, by far this is the strongest sense of family and connection that I’ve felt.”
With this new scholarship program, the growing acclaim of the school, a new strategic plan geared toward student “well-roundedness,” and the longstanding support of the community, Gandhi is excited for what the future will look like:
“I think this just speaks to the community, and it tells a lot to young families wondering where to live. It tells them about the community and that community truly cares for the kids.”
“I hope that this marks a positive upward movement for our school district. With this, I really think we can launch into a new era, to be the best in the state. That’s our goal as educators, and with this program it can really launch us into that.”
Now that the Darrel Hendrickson Scholarship is set in place to provide for students for many years to come, Gandhi hopes that “it reinforces in them the support that they have in their community.”
“I think this will only increase the pride we have as Richland Colt. We’re a quiet, spread-out-over-a-lot-of-land community, and this really just brings out the positive word to the larger metro area. I think it will encourage families and our kids to give back by living through Darrel’s example.”
Once again, we want to thank our North Dakota Hub Partners, North Dakota Small Organized Schools. We look forward to sharing more good stories from the Peace Garden State in the months ahead.
December 10, 2020
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