With one fundraising milestone down, Leigh Legacy Fund sets sights on the next

Originally published on 10/11’s Pure Nebraska program.

Current and past residents of Leigh (pop. 400) celebrated a monumental achievement over Memorial Day weekend, one that honored the past while supercharging the community’s future.

Leigh Legacy Fund, an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation, announced it had surpassed the $500,000 goal for a challenge grant issued by alumni last year. The Distinguished Alumni Challenge kicked off in January 2023 when 14 families and individuals (all Leigh High School alumni who have moved away but still hold the community dear) joined together to issue a challenge to the Leigh community and other alumni and friends of Leigh living elsewhere.

The alumni group pledged $200,000 to LLF’s unrestricted endowment and Nebraska Community Foundation pledged another $50,000 as part of its Homegrown Challenge Grants initiative with a 2:1 match incentive. This means that if the Leigh Legacy Fund could raise $500,000, they would be awarded $250,000 in additional funds for a $750,000 increase to the Leigh community’s unrestricted endowment.

In just 16 months, LLF exceeded the challenge, securing donations and pledges of $585,000 from current and former residents, including all members of their own volunteer fund advisory committee. As a result, Leigh’s unrestricted endowment will already be increasing by over $835,000.

“Obviously many people around and in the Leigh community saw the benefit in our challenge and made an investment in their hometown that will be felt for many years to come,” said Leigh Alum, Honorary NCF Board Member and convener of the Distinguished Alumni Challenge, Greg Vasek. “I truly believe that this is only the start for this group, and with guidance this endowment fund will continue to grow and help Leigh to prosper forever.”

So far, LLF has received 132 campaign donations from 14 different states. Because the donations are designated for the unrestricted endowment, the principal of this money will never be touched, and only the annual interest will be spent. With the results of the Distinguished Alumni Challenge combined with assets previously raised, LLF will be able to grant around $45,000 back into the community every year. Already LLF grants have benefited local youth programming, gifts for graduates, ballfield improvements, meals for seniors, and numerous community beautification efforts.

Many donors said they gave with their thoughts on the future.

“It is extremely important to support our local community and a place that we will call home for the rest of our lives as we raise our family,” said Thomas and Mallory Urban (Thomas currently serves on the LLF advisory committee). “The endowment is a great opportunity to not only support the current needs of our community now but also be the foundation of the future needs of our community. It will become very important to have and play an important role as our community continues to grow into the future.”

Diana Dowling of Colorado gave to the challenge in honor of her late father, who may have left Leigh, but certainly never forgot the community.

“We decided to have donations go to Leigh Legacy Fund at my father Dennis Schroeder’s funeral as his hometown meant so much to him,” she said. “Even though he lived in several cities all over the U.S. from California to Cincinnati to Omaha to Colorado Springs, Leigh was his hometown.”

Donors from every end of the age spectrum have already supported the campaign. Kolton Held graduated from Leigh in 2016 and currently lives in Chadron, but he’s admired LLF’s work from across the state.

“I gave to the Leigh Legacy Fund because I’m excited to see the work they do and the impact they make in my hometown that will benefit future generations,” he said.

A major milestone has been reached, but the fundraising effort is by no means over, said LLF Chair Justine Fischer. She and her fellow volunteers have heard from many people who still plan to give, and members of the Legacy Fund are certain there are more donors out there, in Leigh and beyond.

“We are absolutely blown away by how quickly we were able to surpass $500,000,” Fischer said. “The pride people have in this community is incredible. We are truly humbled by everyone’s generosity and grateful to the donors who brought us this far. But we aren’t done yet. We are going to continue to dream big and see how high we can take this thing. Every donation makes a difference. If you love Leigh and want to be a part of this campaign, you still have until Dec. 31, 2025 to make pledges and gifts that will benefit our community forever.”

Leigh Legacy Fund thanks the 14 Distinguished Alumni Challenge donors who made the campaign possible:

Ken and Maureen Hake

Joe and Theresa Herink

Ken Barjenbruch, M.D.

Rosalind Mohnsen

Jim and Doreen Linnan

Dean Settje

Dan Gernstein

Rod and Mary Schroeder

Mike and Lois Wilke Charitable Foundation

Kenlon and Jennifer Johannes

Don and Sherri Maliha

Ron and Ruth Asche

Greg and Marcia (Hamann) Vasek

Marolf Family Trust

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