Many remember Mary Page (1934-2013) for being the mayor of Olivia, a University of Minnesota Regent and a voice for rural Minnesota. Descendants honor her and her husband Jim through giving to University of Minnesota Extension and other organizations that mirror their passions.
Elizabeth Page remembers how happy her grandmother was in her garden.
This memory led Elizabeth, 18 and living in Sioux City, Iowa, to make her first significant philanthropic gift: $5,000 to the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program.
“I didn’t always understand what it meant to be a Master Gardener,” says Elizabeth. “I just knew it was important to my grandma by how often she talked about it.”
Elizabeth focused her gift on Master Gardener work in nature and local foods. In making a gift, she became one of the Page family’s youngest philanthropists.
New family gift doubles impact
After Mary’s death in 2013, Jim and their children — Marcia, Mark and Dave — launched the Mary J. Page Community-University Partnerships Fund with $25,000 for Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP), and they have continued to give and to raise money from others. RSDP creates pathways for graduate and undergraduate students to take part in community-driven research projects.
In April 2021, they announced a $100,000 gift, expected to double the number of students who can conduct research projects across Minnesota. One recent example is Leech Lake Early Childhood Development's Megwayaak Project.
Another project reflecting Mary’s values was Connecting rural women leaders, engaging Kate Stower, graduate student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, with an organization that gets women into leadership in areas where they are underrepresented.
It’s a project Mary would have loved. “Mary was one of the very first women county commissioners, in Renville County. You can see how pioneering she was as a leader,” says Kathy Draeger, the statewide director of RSDP, which was founded by Mary Page among others.
“Our parents, Mary and Jim, were good savers, and they lived within their means,” says Marcia Page. “During their lives, they mostly gave of their time, volunteering. Dad was a business owner and pharmacist with a heart for his customers.”
“Mom was all about rural Extension and you are really making her vision in bigger ways than we would have ever imagined,” Dave Page told a group of RSDP students and staff when the family announced their new gift.
“When Dad passed in 2020, what had been accomplished in the previous years made it a no-brainer to give more,” adds Mark Page.
The family that gives together gets together
Mary and Jim were clear that a third of their estate should go to where their children saw their values, but they were not precise about it. “They trusted us and had confidence that we would be looking to the future,” says Marcia. “And my brothers and I spent a lot of time together to make these decisions.”
The family meets regularly to make decisions about giving, and spouses and grandchildren are not left out by any means.
Elizabeth’s mother and Dave’s wife, Staci Page, had the idea of asking all eight grandchildren to make their own gifts.
Mary Page loved Christmas. Fittingly, her grandchildren announced their philanthropy plans to one another during Christmas of 2020.
“We entrusted them with the research, and they did their homework,” says Marcia. “They reflected what they are interested in, but also their ties to their grandparents.”
Jim Page died of colon cancer. Marcia’s oldest daughter, a physician, chose the Minnesota Colorectal Research Foundation, which funds University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic research projects.
One grandson directed his gift to an organization that improves wildlife habitat (Jim was a hunter). And another gave to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation; like countless families, they’ve experienced alcoholism and the gift of recovery.
Other recipients include the Minnesota Women’s Sports Foundation, partly because Mary Page was such a fan of and advocate for women’s sports. Youth, environment and water quality were also top of minds.
Bringing communities into bloom
RSDP projects are about sustainability, including local food. Case in point, a community garden in Olivia. “When I travel back home, I can see that a plot of land that was nothing now produces food for community food shelves and even for the hospital. These projects connect the University with the state, and that’s what Mom was always after,” says Marcia.
That project came to life when United Farm Credit Services donated three acres of land and area organizations got involved. Through funding by the Mary J. Page Community-University Partnership Fund, a Humphrey School of Public Affairs graduate student created a business plan to ensure that the garden would benefit the regional economy.
Elizabeth is proud to be one of Extension’s newest donors, supporting similar local foods projects through the Master Gardener program. “It’s a comfort to me to be able to talk to so many people who are involved,” she says. “I know the money is going to things my grandma would think are really cool.”