Community Foundation of St. Joseph County

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Eugene and Mary Myers

This year, Christmas came early for five local nonprofits.

Eugene Myers, photographed in 2008

It’s not every day that you open an envelope and find a check for $55,000.

“This is by far the most surprising gift I have ever received,” said Stephen Donndelinger, principal of St. Jude Elementary School. “Not only did I not know it was coming but I would never have expected a gift in such an amount. Opening it on a Friday afternoon as I was about to leave the office was icing on the cake.”

He’s talking about the unexpected bequest that St. Jude and four other local nonprofits received in November from the estate of Eugene and Mary Myers—a bequest all the more surprising to Donndelinger because the couple, who had no children, had no known connection to the school.

Gene Myers was a farmer all of his life. His 140-acre farm was located on the corner of Ironwood and Madison roads in St. Joseph County.

Gene and his wife Mary raised hogs, dairy cows, sheep, and chickens—Gene delivered crates of fresh eggs to grocery stores, hospitals, and restaurants every week—and also grew corn, hay, and wheat. They lived on the farmstead until 2007, when they moved into a retirement community on South Bend’s south side. In 2010, Mary died; in 2014, Gene followed, at the age of 95.

Gene and Mary chose to create a will that distributed their estate among their most trusted charities. Five primary beneficiaries received a lump sum of $55,000: St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, where the Myers were parishioners; Pet Refuge, Inc.; Camp Millhouse; the St. Joseph County 4-H Fair, with a focus on the animal clubs, and St. Jude Elementary School. The remainder of the estate was put into the Gene and Mary Myers Fund at the Community Foundation, where it will continue to generate annual support for those five charities long into the future.

Often, donors aren’t aware that they can tailor a bequest so that it provides immediate support to a charity that they value and continues to support that charity forever. This approach can be the best of both worlds for recipients.

That’s the case for Camp Millhouse, another organization for whom the Myers gift was a complete surprise.

“By getting the large lump sum at the start of this bequest, we’ll be able to accomplish something from our wish list without having to wait years to build the funds to complete the project,” says Diana Breden, the camp’s director.

And, she says, the endowment aspect of the gift provides an element of long-term stability that Camp Millhouse particularly appreciates, since the organization depends on community donations to survive.

“Knowing we’ll be receiving money from this bequest each year helps us budget for our everyday expenses.”

And of course, that additional envelope will also serve as an annual reminder of the vision and generosity of Gene and Mary Myers.