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Published June 05, 2012, 11:30 PM

Bremer’s mission of helping continues with grants

FARGO – The Otto Bremer Foundation gives about $25 million a year to community groups in North Dakota, Minnesota and western Wisconsin, and Tuesday it held an event in Fargo to celebrate the good things Bremer gifts do in places ranging from Lisbon and Casselton in North Dakota to Detroit Lakes and Perham in Minnesota.

By: Dave Olson, INFORUM

FARGO – The Otto Bremer Foundation gives about $25 million a year to community groups in North Dakota, Minnesota and western Wisconsin, and Tuesday it held an event in Fargo to celebrate the good things Bremer gifts do in places ranging from Lisbon and Casselton in North Dakota to Detroit Lakes and Perham in Minnesota.

Otto Bremer Foundation grants in the Fargo-Moorhead area totaled about $1.8 million in 2011.

A recent round of grants resulted in about $38,000 going to the Fargo Housing Authority to hire a full-time nurse to work at a transitional housing facility for the homeless.

Other recent area grants include:

• About $100,000 to the YWCA of Cass Clay emergency shelter.

• About $40,000 to Habitat for Humanity.

• About $180,000 to the Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership in Moorhead.

• About $12,000 for a Leonard (N.D.) Fire Department project.

• About $60,000 to the Lisbon Fire Department.

Bremer grants “are pretty wide-ranging,” said Howard Barlow, nonprofit resource specialist for both the Otto Bremer Foundation and Bremer Bank, entities that have had a shared mission since the 1940s, when Otto Bremer created his foundation and gave it a 92 percent ownership stake in his for-profit banking empire.

The result: 92 percent of bank dividends go to the foundation, which rolls the money back into communities where Bremer banks are located.

The foundation’s goals are straightforward, according to Barlow.

“The mission of the foundation is to ensure that all citizens have equal access to the civic, social and economic life of a community,” said Barlow, adding that one of the ideas that guided Bremer, who died in 1951, was that banks should serve their community.

Barlow said that during the Great Depression Bremer used his wealth to bail out many small rural banks that otherwise would have disappeared.

“He believed they needed that bank there to serve the community,” Barlow said.

When Bremer began making grants to communities, he set things up so that three trustees would make the gifting decisions.

The trustees appointed their successors, and the tradition has carried on to this day.

Charlotte Johnson has been a Bremer Foundation trustee for 21 years.

She said she and her fellow trustees are guided in their decisions by a document Bremer established in the 1940s.

“In my mind, it’s kind of like the Constitution,” she said. “One of the challenges is how do we interpret his intent of what he wanted these gifts to go towards, but also meet today’s needs?

“It’s that balance between what the world looked like in 1944 and what it looks like in 2012,” Johnson said, adding that the foundation currently is researching ways it might help higher education fulfill job training needs as well as ways the foundation could support libraries as community gathering places.

“We’re just beginning to explore what role we might play,” she said.

The foundation has already played a big role in supporting the Lisbon Fire Department, according to Fire Chief Ryan Kenyon.

He said the foundation’s most recent gift will pay for a new tanker truck after the department’s old tanker sprung a leak.

Kenyon said the foundation also helped out with an $80,000 grant about three years ago for new air tanks and a compressor to fill them.

“They’ve been good to us,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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