The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region has received an estate gift of more than $100 million — its largest gift ever and one of the largest in Wisconsin’s history.
The gift by former media executive David L. Nelson and his wife, Rita, will generate millions of dollars in grants annually to benefit causes important to the Nelsons and their family, primarily in the Fox Cities and Green Bay areas.
“This is the most generous gift ever for our region, and it is a game-changer,” Curt Detjen, Community Foundation President and CEO, said at a press conference at Grignon Mansion in Kaukauna, a site David’s father sought to protect when he served as mayor during the 1940s. “It will be a catalyst for addressing community needs today, but also for investing in exciting opportunities for future generations.”
The Nelsons lived in De Pere. David was born in Kaukauna and Rita was a Janesville native. The couple lived in Wisconsin nearly their entire lives. David Nelson helped manage the companies that published newspapers in Appleton and Green Bay before investing in radio stations and other businesses. She became a teacher after raising the couple’s three sons. They were married for 73 years and died within five months of each other — Rita on Feb. 16, 2017, at age 93 and David on July 18, 2017, at age 96.
At more than $100 million, the gift was large enough to have ranked among the top 20 gifts nationally reported by the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2017. The bequest is by far the largest gift to the Community Foundation in its 32-year history, surpassing an estate gift of $16 million in 2004 from Donald and Violet Himebaugh of Appleton.
The Nelson gift established the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, a permanent, donor-advised endowment that will award grants to charitable organizations reflecting the charitable interests of David and Rita Nelson and their family. The Community Foundation will support an advisory committee comprised of people who know the Nelson family to award grants from the fund.
The David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund will benefit the couple’s interests, including parks, recreation and waterways; education; health care; community services and community centers; and historic preservation, including lighthouses, museums and historical societies. Other areas of family interest may be considered, as recommended by the fund’s advisory committee.
Detjen said the $100 million-plus fund is expected to award $4.5 million in grants per year by 2021, based on the foundation’s endowment formula that up to 4.5 percent of a fund’s balance be distributed as grants each year to assure the fund’s giving capacity and permanence.
“This gift to the Community Foundation provides us and our area with a tremendous opportunity that we enthusiastically embrace,” Detjen said. “We are humbled and incredibly grateful for the trust that the Nelsons have placed with us to ensure that the family’s legacy will be part of creating the exciting chapters ahead for this region.”
Grants will be awarded annually and determined by the fund’s advisory committee and the Community Foundation staff.