• July 26, 2014

No. 50: Millicent Atkins (bequest)

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Amount donated in 2013: an estimated $37.5-million

Beneficiaries: Columbia Congregational Church UCC (S.D.), Northern State University, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Background: Ms. Atkins was a farmer and landowner.

Ms. Atkins, who was 93 when she died in 2012, left an estimated $37.5-million trust to be split equally among three institutions: Columbia Congregational Church UCC, in South Dakota; Northern State University; and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

The donor directed that each beneficiary would receive one-third of the trust’s annual income, or approximately $12.5-million, and that all of the trust’s money should be distributed 10 years after her death.

Ms. Atkins’s bequest to the tiny Columbia Congregational Church UCC was a surprise, since she had not attended services there regularly in more than 50 years. That gift was not earmarked for any purpose, and church leaders are deciding how to use it.

Officials at the University of Minnesota were equally surprised at the bequest. Ms. Atkins attended the university’s School of Agriculture in 1937 but never graduated and had no contact with the institution after that. Her mother, Blossom Atkins, graduated from the university in 1905, and officials think Ms. Atkins made the gift with her in mind.

Ms. Atkins designated the bequest for what is now called the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences but did not place any restrictions on how the money should be used. University officials said they have earmarked some of it for scholarships and will determine other uses in the coming years.

After 1937, Ms. Atkins left the University of Minnesota and transferred to Northern State University, where she earned a teaching degree in 1940. She taught school for several years, then joined the family business, becoming a farm manager and buying more land over the decades. She eventually amassed more than 4,000 acres of valuable farmland in South Dakota’s Brown County.

Northern State officials said she earmarked their university’s portion of the bequest for the School of Education, which will be named for Ms. Atkins.

The Philanthropy 50: Browse the full list of America's most generous donors in 2013.

Learn more: See this donor's listing in our database of major gifts, America's Top Donors.

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