Joe Neel Jr., a quiet philanthropist and expert draftsman who died in 2017, has left an estate gift of more than $1 million to the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region.
The funds will be used for music education for children 18 and younger, according to Becca Bahnmiller, the foundation's executive director.
"We're so happy for Grand Forks, really," she said. "It's going to be quite the gift as that endowment is established."
The Community Foundation is working with representatives of the estate to form an advisory committee that will guide decision-making regarding the distribution of funds generated by the endowment, Bahnmiller said.
The representatives are local attorney John Warcup and Ken Johnson, Grand Forks, who supervised Neel as a Civil Service employee at Grand Forks Air Force Base.
The committee, which will include community members and experts in the field of music, "will determine exactly how the funds will be used," she said.
In initial conversations with Warcup and Johnson, it's been suggested that a portion of the available funds be used for scholarships for children 18 and younger, "not for college, but maybe for lessons or fees associated with a competition, things of that sort," Bahnmiller said. "And the other portion could potentially go to nonprofit organizations in the form of grants or to public entities, such as the school district."
Bahnmiller said she is hopeful the first grants from the endowment will be awarded in 2020.
"We might be doing a listening session or two in the community with band directors and (leaders of) arts, music and nonprofit organizations to hear a little bit more about the challenges and needs around music education and youth," she said. "So as the committee is formed and we lay out a strategic plan for these gifts for the future, we are addressing immediate needs and long-term needs, and that funds are targeted toward bettering the community in terms of improving music education and for youth."
Neel, who graduated from high school in Kansas City, moved to Grand Forks when his father accepted a position in UND's biology department.
"He was 20 when he moved here with his parents," Bahnmiller said. "He was an only child. He was never married, and he had no nieces or nephews."
Neel, who died from a heart attack July 31, 2017, "was very precise, very organized" in his work as a draftsman at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, Bahnmiller said.
She never met him, she said, but "it's been a real treat to learn about him" through conversations with Warcup and Johnson.
One anecdote was told about how Neel's co-workers at the base decided he needed a new sweater and they all chipped in to buy him one, "not realizing that he could easily afford it," Bahnmiller said with a chuckle.
"He was a very quiet man. He had some quirks," she said. "(As a draftsman) if he was drawing a building, he'd look at the building and would count each brick, and every brick was accounted for in his drawing. He was very precise-a collector, in a way, of information."
Neel "saved (money) and never spent much on himself. He invested a lot and gave (to the community) often in anonymous or quiet ways."
Neel's ability to save and invest wisely allowed him to give six- and seven-figure contributions to institutions and causes that mattered to him and his parents.
Throughout his life, Neel gave generously to organizations including the Circle of Friends Humane Society, Grand Forks Public Library, Grand Forks Park District, UND, and his alma mater, the North Dakota State College of Science, Bahnmiller said.
In the fall of 2017, the Community Foundation was notified that it was the residual beneficiary of the Neel estate, but "we did not know the exact figure" until recently, when the estate's accounts were settled, Bahnmiller said.