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Willmar native gives $1 million to Nature Conservatory

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MINNEAPOLIS - The Nature Conservancy announced today that it has received a $1 million estate gift from a farmer in Willmar, Minnesota.

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From all accounts, Herbert Schwanke was a private man who lived a quiet life on his farm in Willmar in central Minnesota. A life-long resident of the area, he did custom farm work for others and tilled his own land. He enjoyed life's simple pleasures - attending auctions, visiting friends at the Little Dukes convenience store and spending time with his special friend Helen and with Fuzz, a wild cat who took a fancy to him.

So it may have come as a surprise to many when, upon his death, Schwanke left his entire estate, valued at more than $1 million, to The Nature Conservancy for land conservation.

"Herb was a solitary man and a deep thinker," said Geri Krueger, the personal representative chosen by Schwanke for his estate, "who took his stewardship of the land very seriously. Herb and Helen felt it was important for people to experience the land, especially those of us who live in cities and might not have as many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors."

Schwanke loved his farm which, in addition to agricultural land, also included some prairie and lake shoreline. According to Krueger, his first thought was to donate it to the state of Minnesota in the hope that it could become a state park. When he realized how difficult it would be to make that happen, he began exploring the idea of donating his estate to a conservation organization that would use his bequest to protect land for public visitation and recreation. After researching a number of conservation organizations, Schwanke chose The Nature Conservancy.

"People leave their mark on the future in many ways," said Peggy Ladner, who directs The Nature Conservancy's work in Minnesota. "Mr. Schwanke's gift will help protect grasslands and wetlands at Ordway Prairie, not far from where he once farmed, that will be enjoyed by children and their families for generations to come."

Ordway Prairie is located in Pope County just northwest of Willmar. Its rolling hills are covered with tallgrass and dry gravel hill prairies, maple-basswood and oak forests, fens and other wetlands. They provide habitat for birds like meadowlarks and bobolinks, whose populations are declining worldwide, and for colorful orchids, butterflies and prairie wildflowers. The preserve is open to the public for walking, bird-watching and wildlife viewing.

If you love Minnesota's lands and waters and would like to learn how you can leave a conservation legacy, please contact Gloria Karbo at gkarbo@tnc.org or (612) 331-0753.

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