Murray Soder, left, presents a cheque for $1 million to Bob Nesbitt, centre, the first chair of the Elkhorn and Area Foundation, and to Brenda Orr, the current chair of the foundation. The donation is in memory of  Milburn and Gilbert Soder, two Elkhorn farmers who, through hard work and despite many hardships, created a successful farming operation.

$1 million for Elkhorn and Area Foundation

December 28, 2016 8:21 am
Ed James and Kevin Weedmark

The Elkhorn Foundation has just received its largest donation ever—$1 million from the estate of Gilbert Soder in memory of Gilbert and Milburn Soder.

The Soder family has farmed in the Elkhorn area for 110 years. On Dec. 17, Murray Soder was at the Elkhorn Leisure Centre along with several members of the Soder family and community members for a special presentation to the community.

Before the presentation, Murray took some time to give a brief history of the family, explaining how the family and farm grew over the years. He recalled the roaring ‘20s, the stock market crash of ’29, the dust bowl of the 1930s and the weekly cream cheque from the Elkhorn Creamery that gave the family a little money to buy the necessary items they could not grow or make on the farm.

He went on to remember family trips to town for shopping at Bartley’s General Store, with Mrs. Bartley sometimes babysitting the children as their parents had business at Schoen’s blacksmith shop, Vodden’s harness shop, or Snyder’s livery stable to keep the horses warm and fed in winter, or sometimes it was a trip to town to do some curling.
When the amount of the donation was announced at the cheque presentation, there were gasps from the crowd.

Murray Soder said the bequest from Milburn and Gilbert should be considered a legacy of the hardships and perseverance of his family in sticking out the hard times with total dedication to making the farm a successful enterprise.

Bob Nesbitt, the first chair of the foundation board and one of the driving members, said, “Since our start in 1999 our ability has grown over the years to help so many projects. The Elkhorn and Area Foundation is a whole community effort, we all thank you very much.”

Following the presentation there was a time for visiting and remembering Millie and Gillie Soder when they farmed in the area.

Brenda Orr, president of the Elkhorn and Area Foundation, said in an interview after the presentation that the donation came as a surprise.

“We got a call from the lawyer’s office saying that there was a donation left to us on behalf of the estate of Gilbert Soder and his brother Milburn, and asking if we could set up a presentation—that it was a sizable donation, very newsworthy. We had no idea what we were getting until their brother from B.C. came out to make the presentation and a bunch of their family was there as well.”

She said the size of the donation was a big surprise to the foundation board.

“It was a huge surprise,” she said. “It was very overwhelming.

“I think it was 1920 when their family had come to the area and then they have just always been around the area since then,” she said. “Milburn and Gilbert were bachelors who lived in the Elkhorn area. Milburn passed away a few years ago and then Gilbert just passed away this past year, and they’re just getting the estate settled now. They have also made donations to other organizations in town.”

She said the foundation has come a long way from 1996-98 when it was set up.

“Our first grant was handed out in 1999. We had $185 to distribute that first year,” she said. “We had Bob Nesbitt as the chairman and Ron Canart was the vice chair and Gail Martin was the secretary. And then they had six other board members. There were four people in town who donated money and we ended up with $12,000 to get the foundation set up. From that they could get a matching grant and then they could get the charitable donation number and get all the paperwork in place.”

The Foundation has grown substantially since that first $12,000 was donated.

“As of today’s date we are sitting close to $368,000 in our endowment fund. And in 2016 we handed out $9,145 in grant money and close to $2,000 in scholarship money.”
How big a difference will the $1 million donation make?

“It’s huge,” says Brenda.

“We won’t see any effects of it from this coming year, it will be the following year, because it’s always based on your previous calender year. So the following year is when the grants will triple in size in what we will be able to give out, so it’s huge for the Elkhorn area with all the major projects going on. The impact is going to be incredible for our area really, with all the different projects and all the different organizations.”

The foundation has supported many projects and organizations in Elkhorn.

“Last year we were very lucky,” says Brenda. We had some money to be able to support the spray park. We applied for matching grants from The Community Foundations of Canada 150 Fund. We were able to get one for the spray park and we were also able to get one for Elkhorn District Community Center to put towards new seating in the waiting room.”

The foundation’s endowment has been growing.

“Last year was a great year for us because the Thomas Seele Foundation did an initiative for all foundations that if you raised up to $50,000 they would match 50 cents to every dollar raised. So we did that, we raised $50,000 and they matched it with $25,000, so to us that was huge, so that went into our endowment fund as well.”

The foundation has programs each year to add to its endowment.

“We do a memory tree every Christmas and that is one of our major fundraisers,” said Brenda. “We also get a lot of memorial donations.”

She said the foundation is happy to be able to support various organizations in Elkhorn. “The beauty of the foundation is all organizations in Elkhorn benefit from it, because anyone can apply for it,” she said. “We have helped the golf course get new mowers. We have helped the arena with lighting projects or when they were building new dressing rooms. We helped the curling rink with various projects in the past. We have helped the Elks hall with new fencing and some tables and chairs. We have helped the Legion hall with some tables. We helped the Royal Purple—they needed some new coffee pots and things like that. The library has had several grants, the leisure centre, the handy van, the Elkview Lodge wanted to get new seating for outside. We were able to give some money toward the ball diamonds. So the foundation helps all the organizations in town.

“Over the years I believe it is close $78,000 that we have handed out in grants. And close to $21,000 that we have handed out in scholarships.”

She said the $1 million donation will have a major impact on the foundation, and make much more funding available to be granted.

The donation will increase the endowment from $368,000 to $1,368,000. The endowment remains in place permanently, and the income earned from it is distributed each year.
“It’s huge the impact this is going to have on our community,” said Brenda.

“We will be able to help many generations to come now with this money. To have the original board members on hand for the cheque presentation was pretty special because they did so much to get the foundation going,” she said. “I think it was pretty overwhelming for them to see this donation, and to know the potential for how much good this can do for the community. There were quite a few tears flowing that day. It was pretty special.”

What did she say to thank the family for the donation?

“It was tough to know how to say ‘thank you’ enough. We had Milburn and Gilbert’s brother there, and a lot of nieces and nephews that were there. I basically tried to just say a huge thank you to the family for coming to the presentation, and for the impact we are going to have on the community. I guess everyone is very proud of Elkhorn and our foundation. It’s huge that we can keep going forward with this. It was very overwhelming.”

Brenda says the donation has been the talk of the town.

“There was a big game on at the rink that night and it was quite a buzz. The rink was packed for it. I think everyone realizes the impact on our community is going to be pretty outstanding over the years.

“With the great volunteer base we have for our town, and this funding to help those volunteers in all those groups, that is great news for Elkhorn.

“It was a pretty exciting day for everyone. It made you feel pretty proud to be part of it all.”