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February 14, 2007
The Anoka-Ramsey Community College (ARCC) Coon Rapids Foundation recently received notification of the largest single bequest in the 40-year history of the College. The $100,000 gift from Geri and Darby Nelson will benefit the Random Acts of Kindness program that provides emergency financial assistance to students at risk of dropping out due to an unforeseen event. The Nelsons had asked to remain anonymous, but reconsidered when they realized their gift would have an even greater impact if their story inspired others to create their own educational legacy.
Evelyn Gedde, Geri and Darby Nelson, Coon Rapids Foundation President John Gasal and ARCC President Dr. Patrick M. Johns
(left to right) Anoka-Ramsey Community College Director of Institutional Development Evelyn Gedde, Geri and Darby Nelson, Coon Rapids Foundation President John Gasal and ARCC President Dr. Patrick M. Johns celebrate the educational legacy established by the Nelson’s $100,000 bequest to the College.

"This isn't actually a donation," says Darby. "This is a debt being paid forward."

The debt Darby refers to began with his father, who was fatherless at the age of 12. Even without money, Darby's grandmother wanted Darby's father to go to college, and she did what she could to raise funds. But what turned the goal of a college degree into a reality for Darby's father was the help of faculty and staff at Bemidji State University. Through odd jobs and encouragement, they steered him toward graduation. Darby is convinced that without their "careful, nurturing role," it was very questionable whether his father would have earned a college degree.

The dean of Bemidji University also helped Darby's father to secure his first job teaching at the Red Lake Indian Reservation, where he met Darby's mother. The path to education began with Darby's father, continued through Darby and his sister and most recently passed through Darby and Geri's two children, both college graduates. Darby credits those who helped his father obtain the first college degree in the family with setting in motion three generations of college graduates. This belief is supported by research that suggests graduation is a special challenge for first-generation college students, such as Darby's father.

"Many students at Anoka-Ramsey are first-generation," says Geri of the bequest. "Making college work for those students can having very long-lasting effects."

The Nelsons, long-time contributors to ARCC's scholarship fund, worked with ARCC Director of Institutional Advancement, Evelyn Gedde, for several months, discussing their options for creating an educational legacy at ARCC.

"What a joy to administer Random Acts of Kindness on behalf of the Nelsons and to witness their compassion for students in need," says Gedde. "These folks truly believe in giving back to the community so others can improve their lives through education."

"Words cannot express our deep appreciation to Geri and Darby for their generous bequest to Random Acts of Kindness," says ARCC President Dr. Patrick M. Johns. "Not only is their gift critical to the perpetuity of the program, but their philanthropy offers encouragement to others seeking ways to leave a legacy."

A native of Golden Valley, Minn., Geri is retired from 25 years as a physical science teacher in District 11. During her tenure, she was a member of Minnesota Science Best Practices team. Geri met Darby at the University of Minnesota Itasca Biological Station while they were still in college. Geri is President of League of Women Voters ABC, active in Champlin United Methodist Church, a member of Alpha Rho Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma International-a society of Women Educators and a member of Philolectian, the Federated Women's Club of Anoka. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences and a master’s degree in Gifted and Talented Education from the University of Saint Thomas.

"The idea for the bequest was Darby's. As a teacher, he saw so many students who needed a little help or would have to drop out," Geri adds. "It's amazing what a great feeling it is to help students get a college education."

Born in Soudan, Minn., Darby was an ARCC biology faculty member from 1966-2001. Also an active conservationist, he has served on numerous boards, committees and organizations, including co-chair of the Conservation Minnesota Voter Fund. Darby served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives in the mid 1980s and won numerous awards during his teaching tenure, including the Golden and Silver Chalk Awards, which are selected by ARCC students. He holds two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree, and a doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota and has nearly completed his first book, "Lakes: Landscapes of the Mind."

"Those people back in the 1930s who helped my father year-by-year opened the golden door we call education," Darby concludes. "Now, we just want to do the same for others, and we're really enjoying it."

More on Random Acts of Kindness
The Random Acts of Kindness program was established at ARCC Coon Rapids Campus in August 2003 and recently expanded to the Cambridge Campus thanks to the Kopp Family Foundation. Students on the verge of leaving school due to unforeseen financial emergencies can speak to a faculty or staff member who may submit a written recommendation to a Dean of Student Services outlining the situation. Since the program was founded, 30 students have received assistance. The first recipient was a nursing student who confided to an instructor the need to drop out of school to work more hours to take care of an unforeseen bill.

For more information about the Random Acts of Kindness program or to discuss creating an educational legacy, contact Anoka-Ramsey Community College Director of Institutional Advancement, Evelyn Gedde at 763-433-1189.