Schools in a little west-central Minnesota town are grateful for an unexpected $1 million Christmas gift. But they’d like to know a bit more about the giver.
The schools in Perham recently were notified that they were the recipients of six-figure sums from a trust fund created by Deloris “Dee” Barnack Kenner, a retired nurse who died in 2015. The Perham-Dent Public School District will receive $750,000; St. Paul’s Lutheran School and St. Henry’s Area School, a Catholic school, will get $125,000 each.
The money will create endowments to reward teaching excellence. An additional gift was provided to support college and vocational school scholarships for Perham students.
But little is known about Kenner, who grew up in Otter Tail County and lived most of her life elsewhere. Local foundation officials are hoping to discover more about Kenner and why she chose Perham schools as the beneficiaries of her gift.
“The only thing we could find out about a connection to Perham is that her parents were in the St. Henry Catholic Church cemetery,” said Sheri Booms Holm, a spokeswoman for the West Central Initiative in Fergus Falls, a community foundation that’s administering the gift. “Hopefully, there are people out there who knew Dee Kenner and can tell us more about her.”
Kenner lived in Chicago for many years and married a doctor late in life, Holm said. She had no children and returned to Minnesota to live her final few years in Detroit Lakes.
School officials expressed thanks for the donations, which they didn’t know were coming. Kenner’s trust specified that the money was not to be given until two years after her death.
“When I got the call, I was surprised. That surprise immediately turned to thankfulness and gratitude,” said Mitch Anderson, superintendent for the Perham-Dent schools. “Although we don’t know exactly what inspired Mrs. Kenner to give this bountiful gift, it was certainly one from her heart that will touch the lives of teachers and children for so many years to come.”
Jason Smith, principal of St. Henry’s, said the school is “honored and humbled by Mrs. Kenner’s generous gift. We will carefully use these funds for the betterment of education in our community.”
The West Central Initiative invites anyone with information about Kenner to contact Holm at firstname.lastname@example.org.