An estate gift of $103 million has earned a De Pere couple a spot on the list of America’s biggest philanthropic donors.
The 19th Annual Philanthropy 50 is a ranking of America’s biggest donors. At number one on the list are Jeff and MacKenzi Bezos. Bezos is known for being the founder and CEO of Amazon. Bill and Melinda Gates are number 12 on the list. At number 16 are David and Rita Nelson.
The late David L. Nelson and his wife, the late Rita Wilson, made the sizeable gift to the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The two died within months of each other back in 2017, and their estate gift was announced in May of 2018. The gift is one of the largest in Wisconsin’s history.
The Nelson estate gift established a fund within the Community Foundation. It’s a permanent, donor-advised endowment that awards grants benefiting the couple’s interests, which range from parks to education to historic preservation and everything in between. The first round of grants were given out in May of 2018. The recipients include:
- Grassy Island Range Lights, $2.62 million for stabilization of two historical lighthouses near Green Bay, and a municipal boat landing.
- Little Chute-Kaukauna board walk, $650,000 to raise the local share of a pedestrian/bicycle boardwalk across the Fox River.
- Grignon Mansion, $50,000 for reconstruction of the summer kitchen and enhanced signage at the Kaukauna historic site.
- Friends of High Cliff State Park, $50,000 for restoration of the upper park pavilion at the state park in Sherwood, and support for a summer naturalist.
- Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, $30,000 for an endowed fund for tuition assistance at the Milwaukee all-girls Catholic school.
- Kaukauna High School, $30,000 for an endowed scholarship.
- St. Vincent de Paul Society, $25,000 for support for those in need at the nonprofit in Green Bay
- St. Norbert College Parish, $15,000 for construction of a prayer/reflection garden at the old St. Joseph Church on the campus of St. Norbert College in De Pere.
The Nelsons lived in De Pere, but David was born and raised in Kaukauna. Rita was born and raised in Janesville. Rita was a teacher, and David managed companies that published newspapers in Green Bay and Appleton.