Farmer's gift to Calvary Lutheran Church of Willmar greater than he would have imagined
The late Jerry Anderson bequeathed money and land in his estate to the Calvary Lutheran Church of Willmar. The church rented the land out for several years, but in December put it for auction and watched as the 416 acres sold for $4.5 million.
WILLMAR — A devout bachelor farmer who faithfully brought his stepmother to church for years, and continued to come long after her death to worship and pray, is now being remembered for the largest charitable gift ever bestowed upon Calvary Lutheran Church in Willmar.
The 416-plus acres of southern Kandiyohi County farmland gifted to the church by the late Jerome “Jerry” Anderson sold for more than $4.5 million at an auction conducted by Fladeboe Land on Dec. 21 in Atwater. The sale recently gained statewide attention in the Star Tribune for the per-acre value of the farmland and the windfall it represents, but it is only part of Anderson’s legacy left to the church.
The church received $400,000 in cash from the estate following Anderson’s death at age 88 in 2014, and it realized rental income on the farmland until its recent sale. All said, Anderson’s gifts to the church represent $5.8 million, according to the Rev. Dean Johnson, Calvary Lutheran administrative pastor.
“We feel blessed. We feel fortunate. No doubt about it,” Johnson said.
In his gift, Anderson insisted on one thing: The funds must be designated for capital expenditures and not the general fund.
“I don’t want Lutherans to become lazy givers,” Johnson said Anderson had told him.
The congregation will now take its time in deciding on how best to use the gift to serve the mission of Calvary Lutheran Church in the spirit of the Christian gospels, according to Johnson. A wide range of ideas have been raised — everything from a multi-purpose facility to a day care center to a cooperative venture with other Lutheran churches in the greater Willmar area.
Impeccable timing, and the strength of a story
“It is fair to say Jerry Anderson would have been shocked to see how well his farm sold for,” said Glen Fladeboe of Fladeboe Land. Glen and his sister, Kristine Fladeboe-Duininck, had expected strong interest in the sale. Farmland values are strong.
And in this case, the timing was “impeccable,” said Glen Fladeboe.
After Anderson’s death, the Calvary congregation had twice voted down moves to place the land for sale, said Johnson. The church continued to rent out the land for several years. The land’s value is estimated to have appreciated by $1 million to $1.5 million since the congregation had last voted against a sale.
With land prices rising, the congregation supported a sale, with about 82% voting to go forward. Johnson said the church placed a minimum value of $8,500 per acre on the tillable acres. He had not yet gotten to his second cup of coffee at the auction and the bid price had jumped to $9,500. At the conclusion of nine rounds of bidding, the more than 40 bidders participating in the auction had brought the value of the tillable acres — 403 of the total — to $11,469 per acre.
The auction had attracted local, state and national bidders.
The property was sold as five parcels. A local farmer, Frans Rosenquist of Atwater , an Iowa farmer and a North Dakota investor purchased the parcels.
“An historic day. We are so grateful, so excited for Calvary,” said Kristine Fladeboe-Duininck. She said the land is high-quality, with good soils and drainage, and four of the five parcels were contiguous.
Farmland sales have been strong for a number of reasons. Commodity prices are good, and there is a lot of investor interest in farmland. They like working with the professionalism and integrity they expect of farmers, she and her brother explained.
There’s another factor at work, and it likely benefited this sale. Whether farmers or investors, most of those purchasing farmland have an agricultural background and appreciate the story and history of the land they seek. The Fladeboes let prospective buyers know this land’s story as part of an aggressive marketing effort: Its sale would benefit Calvary Lutheran as well as honor the memory of Jerry Anderson, known not only as a devout member of the church but also as a friend to many during his lifetime.
Pastor and auctioneers agree: The fact that the sale would benefit a church likely played into some of the thinking at the auction.
“We’ll never be able to measure that, but I like to think that it makes a difference,” said Fladeboe-Duininck.
Johnson said he remembers Anderson as a friend, as well as congregation member.
Anderson grew up in the Atwater area, and joined Calvary Lutheran Church in 1991, shortly after retiring from farming. Along with bringing his stepmother to Sunday services, Anderson would also come on his own to pray. He also enjoyed heading over to Frieda’s Cafe to visit with Johnson, former pastor Tim Larson and others.
With no immediate family, Anderson raised the idea of bequeathing his property to the church. The pastors urged him to visit with his banker, Duaine Amundson.
Johnson described Anderson as a very humble man whose intent was straightforward.
“Jerry Anderson wanted to make a difference, to be supportive of Calvary and its mission. (He) wanted to do good in the name of the Lord. That’s the way he was.”
The good that will likely come from his gift will ripple into the community and beyond. Glen Fladeboe and Kristine Fladeboe-Duininck noted that the bequest of farmland to churches and other nonprofit organizations is not unusual. There is a great deal of wealth in agricultural lands, and this gift could very well inspire others to do as Anderson did, they said.
Johnson said the congregation had agreed that the funds would be held until a purpose for their use in keeping with the church’s mission is determined.
It’s now the congregation’s responsibility to do right with the gift by keeping Anderson’s intent. The resources make possible a project that could benefit many, Johnson said.
“If we do this right, we could make a significant and positive impact on this community,” he said.