DAKOTA, MINN. - A southeastern Minnesota fire chief was left speechless when a neighbor bequeathed $140,000 to his department, an amount that's eight times the city's annual firefighting budget and perhaps enough to buy a new fire truck with the benefactor's name on it.
The money was left by Eleanor Sanford, who died in September at age 99. The amount marks the biggest donation by far for the Fire Department in Dakota, a Mississippi River city with a population of 323 that's 18 miles southeast of Winona.
"We can't thank her enough," said Fire Chief Scott Hoeg, Sanford's former neighbor. He said he only wished the department could have thanked her in person.
The money will likely be used to buy a new fire truck, city clerk Lana Gerlach said. Hoeg said if that happens, Sanford's name is going on the front of it.
"She'd like that," Gerlach said.
Shortly after Sanford died, Gerlach was told that money had been left to the department. She was under the impression it would be $10,000, according to a Winona Daily News report , so when she and Hoeg saw the actual amount, they were stunned.
"Neither one of us could even talk," she said.
Sanford's caretaker, Marilyn Hurt, said Sanford's final act of generosity was entirely in keeping with her giving nature.
Longtime friend Mary Larson said Sanford always thought highly of firefighters and the hard work they do. She remembered Sanford as "just so thoughtful of others."
Sanford also donated a piano to the local Methodist Church and gave $1,000 to the Dakota First Responders Squad.
The $140,000 donation appears to be the largest amount received by any fire department in the area. Officials in Lewiston, 15 miles west of Winona, say the biggest donation they could remember was $15,000. The Winona Fire Department once received about $5,000.