Several local organizations and an overseas charity are the beneficiaries of the remaining assets in the estate of Elizabeth Summers. After many earlier payments to deserving causes reported in the Fennimore Times and elsewhere, the final residual distribution to the remaining recipients totals more than $300,000.
Benefiting from this part of the Summers’ legacy are:
• The Fennimore and Boscobel area rescue squads ($62,912.42 each);
• The Fennimore Area Foundation and the Boscobel Community Foundation ($47,184.32 each);
• Fennimore’s Marsden Park ($31,456.21); and
• Caritas Lebanon, one of 165 member organizations in Caritas International, which also includes Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services ($62,912.42).
When Summers passed in January of 2008 at age 89, she left an estate in excess of $1.1 million. Because her husband (Norbert Summers) and her siblings (Edmund Kalile, Josephine Kalile and Genevieve Baumgartner) all preceded her in death and she had no children, Summers was inclined to give almost everything she had to charity.
Attorney David Kurth, a friend of Summers and executor of her estate, said that she was grateful for the life she lived and cherished her memories of growing up in Fennimore, her marriage and working years in La Crosse, and her retirement in Boscobel.
“During my visits with Elizabeth, she often expressed her concerns about people in need, and about the resources available to them at whatever level in communities. She would always be surprised when I advised her of her net worth, because it was entirely the result of what she placed in savings and inherited from her sisters,” Kurth said. “Looking back to her parents’ arrival in this country from Lebanon in the early years of the last century with almost nothing except their desire to have a family and to make a better life for themselves, John and Rose Kalile and their children realized the American dream.”
According to Rick Kreul, Fennimore Rescue Squad chief, availability of the Summers bequest could not have come at a better time.
“The rescue squad has had a portable, automated CPR machine on its wish list, and maybe, with some luck, we could buy one for the other ambulance down the road,” Kreul said. “These things aren’t cheap, but this gift will take care of the first one, and start us on the way toward the second.”
Kreul’s counterpart in Boscobel, Jerry Berge identified three applications for his group’s share of the Summers’ residue. Current and future EMS training expenses for new squad recruits will be underwritten with part of the proceeds. Among anticipated equipment upgrades and replacements to be purchased are new vacuum splints for fractured extremities and several pagers. A “truck fund” is being established for replacement of the squad’s 1997 ambulance, the cost of which under present conditions could run anywhere between $150,000 and $250,000.
“It’s great news,” Berge said, “not only for us, but also for Fennimore’s squad and the other beneficiaries.”
President Dan Swenson of the Boscobel Community Foundation said that its share of the Summers’ funds will be used as seed money for grants focused on education, honoring Summers’ emphasis in other grants to local schools.
“This thoughtful and generous gift will go a long way toward establishing endowment funds for the foundation. We haven’t been around very long, so the lion’s share of our donations and fundraising proceeds are directly returned to the community in support of local institutions and programs,” Swenson said. “With this gift in place, people having ties to Boscobel will know that the foundation is here to stay, and, perhaps, be encouraged to remember us in making their estate plans or other charitable giving.”
Speaking for the Fennimore Area Foundation, President Joe Grimme noted that its distribution from the Summers estate is the largest single donation in the foundation’s short history. “When donations like this come around, it’s often a jump-start for growth in an organization like ours,” he said. “Having Fennimore remembered in this way by one of its own makes a person feel good about living here and doing things in hoping to make a difference.
Because Marsden Park has limited resources and relies upon donations from the city and park users for its support, Administrative Trustee Bob Craig likewise appreciates Summers’ remembrance of her hometown.
“So far, it has been an up-and-down year for donations, but we always seem to manage to get by. While interest rates aren’t so hot right now, it’s the long-term benefit of adding this gift to the park’s endowment that will keep its operation viable for many years to come,” Craig stated.
For nearly 40 years, Caritas Lebanon has dedicated itself to the Catholic church’s mission of social justice and acting in one of the world’s most troubled areas. Its good works are blind to religious or ethnic distinctions, focusing upon expanding volunteer services, social solidarity, and coordinating charitable endeavors. These programs and activities include: a migrants center for refugees and workers; peace and reconciliation centers, with a special focus on youths and young adults; sustainable agriculture and products; marketing and other economic development; programs for the elderly and other vulnerable groups; and a wide range of medical initiatives.
Earlier distributions from the Summers estate announced in the Fennimore Times and other area publications have included:
• More than $550,000 from its Education Fund, for elementary school student achievement awards, and higher education support (including stipends for future educators) through the Fennimore Community Scholarship Foundation and the UW-Platteville Foundation;
• Improvements and amenities totaling more than $130,000 provided to Boscobel Area Health Care and Boscobel Care and Rehab;
• More than $75,000 to the Great Rivers (La Crosse area) United Way, for grants supporting a veterans mentor program, family literacy, food pantries, after-school programs, and local Boy Scout troops;
• A memorial to Corpus Christi Parish (Immaculate Conception) for communal gathering space and furnishings; and
• A memorial to St. Mary’s Church in Fennimore, used to provide an entrance marker to the congregation’s cemetery.
Smaller donations were made to area food pantries, urban homeless shelters, Father Flanagan’s Boy’s Town, the Salvation Army, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Catholic Charities USA, and Mary Knoll Missionaries.
As final thoughts on Summers’ philanthropy, Kurth had this to say: “Once Elizabeth realized that she could do some truly wonderful things with her money and honor memories of her family, there was no looking back. Compared to the enormous endowments established by Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates and others, it is modest in scale. However, this omnibus legacy represents virtually everything Elizabeth had. Completing this task entrusted to me by her has been a marvelous adventure.”