In life — and in death — the late BJ and Bea Farmer believed giving back to the community they called home for seven decades.
Recently, five organizations — the Eau Claire Community Foundation, Grace Lutheran Communities, Mayo Clinic, Saving Grace Lutheran Church and the University of Arkansas — received financial gifts totaling more than $535,000 from the Farmers.
“It’s not surprising,” said the Rev. David Irgens, senior pastor at Saving Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire. “That was BJ. He was always thinking about how he could help.”
Irgens knew the Farmers for about 15 years, and at the end of the year, “BJ would come in, and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I just want to make sure I gave enough,’” recalled the pastor, chucking at the memory. “Then, he wanted to know what our finances were, where we were at and what he could do to help. He was just a wonderful man.”
Even before being notified of the Farmers’ most recent gift, “we knew BJ was a generous soul,” said Randy Bestul, Grace Lutheran Communities’ interim CEO, noting the businessman had donated money to the former Syverson Lutheran Home for the creation of a dementia wing.
“You get surprised with the generosity of people, (like the Farmers),” Bestul said.
“In providing their generous gift, Mr. and Mrs. Farmer advance the mission of Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, serving people in the region they loved,” said Dr. Richard Helmers, regional vice president of MCHS’s northwest Wisconsin region. “We are honored to recognize them as members of The Mayo Legacy, an extended family of Mayo Clinic benefactors whose gifts shape the future of patient care, research and education at Mayo.”
Born in Mulberry, Ark., BJ graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in business, which was followed by enlistment into the military. He served as a B-24 pilot during World War II.
Bea was born in Nebraska, and her family eventually moved to Colorado. She attended Denver University and the University of Colorado-Boulder, and after college, she worked as a flight attendant for United Airlines, based in Denver, where BJ was stationed after the war.
The couple married in Denver, and in 1948, they moved to Eau Claire, where he began his career in real estate, and they raised their three children.
Over the years, the couple also gave their time and their money to a number of organizations, including the Eau Claire Community Foundation.
“BJ was a promoter of leaving a legacy,” said Sue Bornick, ECCF executive director.
The Farmers were early members of the foundation’s Society of Founders, joining in September of 1997, and were instrumental in the early stages of establishing the ECCF, Bornick said.
BJ served in many capacities at the foundation, including as one of its first officers. He also was treasurer until 2003; served on the Development Committee since its inception, promoting the Leave a Legacy program; and founded a donor development and education program. He continued to serve on the Investment Committee until 2013.
When the Women’s Giving Circle was established in 2007 at the ECCF, Bea immediately became a founding member, committing $1,000. And in April 2011, the couple established the BJ and Bea Farmer Family Fund, an unrestricted fund for the most pressing needs of the community.
“BJ believed in taking care of everybody,” Bornick said. “He knew whatever was given was going to have a big impact.”
The foundation currently has more than $22.3 million in assets, of which over $18.5 million are endowments, Bornick said. The ECCF also has distributed more than $14.5 million in grants.
The legacy gift from the Farmers will continue to support grant awards from the foundation, Bornick said. “This give will give us a boost.”
The funds given to the Grace Lutheran Communities will go to support one of its memory care buildings and provide scholarships for the day care program and assistance to some staff members needing assistance with school loans, Bestul said.
Saving Grace Lutheran Church has launched a capital campaign, which already has brought in $250,000, to either purchase land and build a new building or buy a new space, Irgens said. The Farmers’ gift will go toward campaign.
“Hopefully, this (gift) helps people realize the community is important and encourages others to also give,” he said. “What a benefit to know that part of what you worked for is going to live on.”