The late Leona Mae Ihde, widow of Clarence Ihde, was a lifelong resident of the Friend and Beaver Crossing areas.

Ihde was known by friends and family as an avid gardener who lived quite humbly. Many were likely surprised to learn that this former employee of Alpo Products in Crete had created a gift of $1.8 million to benefit the places she called home.

According to her attorney, Brad Barrows, Leona’s love for watching things grow played a part in arranging her legacy as an endowment, rather than a one-time gift through a bequest. “When considering her options, Leona liked the idea of a permanent endowment because it could grow like her garden,” said Barrows.

Ihde established her endowment with Nebraska Community Foundation shortly before her death in 2009. Since then, her endowment has grown to $2.9 million, while local grants to organizations in Beaver Crossing and Friend, beginning in 2011, have totaled more than $420,000.

“Leona was a savvy student when it came to investing. Later in life she became very interested in alternative energy sources. She was like many folks I meet who have either grown their wealth or inherited wealth. They have strong Nebraska values. They don’t try to buy happiness. They appreciate the security that allows you to be free and to be happy. They live modestly, and they live a long time,” Barrows said.

That description fit Leona Ihde perfectly. Barrows said Ihde was one of the brightest spirits he had ever met. He was never invited into Leona’s house — she told him she only had energy for her house or her garden, so she chose her garden.

Ihde worked tirelessly, even though she suffered from osteoporosis. Barrows remembers one occasion when Ihde turned to him with a wry smile and said, “I can’t stand up straight, but it makes it easier to pull weeds!”

Jim Vossler, a cousin of Leona’s and a member of her fund’s advisory committee, remembers Ihde as a warm and friendly lady who always participated at family gatherings. She was also extremely independent and refused the invitation from relatives to move from her farmhouse into town, at least for the winter.

She was still burning her own wood for heating her home at age 89 when she died.

Leona Ihde had no problem with denying herself certain creature comforts almost everyone takes for granted these days. However, she did hope to improve the lives of families in Friend and Beaver Crossing. The city park, Opera House, library and playground in Friend (pop. 1,027) have all received generous support from the Leona Ihde Donor-Advised Fund over the past six years. Grants have been made to similar causes in Beaver Crossing (pop. 609), and to help with replacing and restoring the community’s trees, which were ravaged during the Mother’s Day tornado of 2014.

Leona Ihde’s story is unique, but also relatable for many in a way that should make us feel very fortunate.

For generations, frugal Nebraskans — teachers, farmers, postal workers, librarians, and factory workers like Leona Ihde — have worked hard and saved money for the future. Most lived their entire lives close to their birthplace. As we are well-aware, this is no longer the case.

Nebraska Community Foundation estimates that over the next 50 years, our state will experience the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in its history. The World War II and the Baby Boom generations own more private wealth than at any time. More than $600 billion.

Some of this wealth will go to taxes. Most will go to heirs. Many of those heirs no longer live where the wealth was built through the decades.

Nebraska Community Foundation is honored to work with generous Nebraskans who are setting aside a portion of this unbelievable abundance as a permanent resource for enriching the lives of people in our hometowns.

For more information on this and other community stories visit NebraskaHometown.org.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.