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Foundation to funnel donations to school district

Posted 4/11/13 (Thu)

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

There is good news for those interested in donating to McKenzie County Public School District No. 1. Giving has now been made easy with help from the Watford City High School Alumni Scholarship Fund and the North Dakota Community Foundation.
According to Steve Holen, district superintendent, the district has discussed for some time the possibility of setting up a benefit fund to help the school with a variety of projects.
“We have started receiving a few donations here and there, and we have wanted to be able to provide tax benefits for those who give to our schools,” states Holen.
But setting up a 501c3 is costly, and Holen wasn’t completely sure the district would be able to do it. That’s where the High School Alumni Fund came in.
In 2003, Class of 1974 Watford City High School Alum Sherrie Bendixson Bettenhausen passed away.
Bettenhausen was a beloved member of the high school graduating class of 1974, and according to classmates Dennis Johnson and Kathy (Hanna) Wachter, she was very inspiring.
“Sherrie was very bright and pursued her passion to have children succeed at whatever level they were at,” states Wachter.
Bettenhausen took her Watford City High School education and went on to get a degree in special education. She taught in New Mexico, South Carolina and other districts around the country, all the while, attaining higher education and becoming the first class of 1974 graduate to earn her Ph.D and elevate herself to the level of college professor.
“Sherrie pursued her dreams and accomplished them,” states Johnson. “Her death reminded us of our own mortality and that life was short.”
But it was also the first time the Class of 1974 truly appreciated their Watford City High School beginning.
“A lot of our classmates have gone on to do some great things. The Class of 1974 includes people who are, or have been, teachers and coaches, a pilot for Delta Airlines, medical professionals, a CPA, a stock broker, a military contractor mathematician, teachers, a professor, a senior aide to a U.S. Senator, several who have specialty jobs in the oil field, managers of various businesses and more,” states Johnson, who is himself an attorney. “All that started with the education we received at Watford City High School.”
“We were taught to work hard, think and become leaders in our fields due to the excellent teachers and programs at WCHS. It seems appropriate to give back to the school which was the single most important common denominator in our lives, no  matter which profession we chose,” states Landa (Stavn) Manders, who is a Nurse Anesthetist in Bismarck.
To honor Bettenhausen and encourage young people to become great educators, the Watford City High School Class of 1974 set up the Watford City High School Alumni Scholarship Fund to give scholarships to graduating seniors who were planning on pursuing a career in education.
“Our classmates were incredibly supportive of the idea and generously donated to the fund to honor Sherrie,” states Johnson.
While the fund’s originators intended to set it up as a 501c3, the process of obtaining tax exempt status can be expensive and there is no guarantee it will be granted.
However, in 2012, the Alumni Fund revisited the idea of establishing a 501c3 when the MCPSD school board approached them about broadening the mission and scope of the Alumni Scholarship Fund to include more general purposes for the benefit of the school district as a whole. But doing so would require 501c3 status. And though appealing because of the tax benefits, the same questions still existed regarding the expense and lack of guarantee that it would be granted.
Through this process, it was discovered that if the Alumni Fund came under the North Dakota Community Foundation, the Alumni Fund could expand into something beyond the Bettenhausen scholarship and tax benefits could be granted to those who donated to the fund.
“The Watford City High School Alumni committee still exists and makes decisions regarding the awarding of scholarships, but now money can be given to the Alumni Fund for either general or specific purposes for the benefit of the school district. And now, donations to the fund are tax deductible,” states Johnson.
The North Dakota Community Foundation is an organization set up to improve the quality of life for North Dakota’s citizens through charitable giving and promoting philanthropy.
With the Watford City schools seeing so much growth and struggling to be seen as impacted infrastructure by the state of North Dakota, being able to offer tax benefits through the North Dakota Community Foundation is a nice thing, according to Holen.
“Now we can manage the school’s various scholarships, as well as any donations, general or specific, given to the school district,” states Holen. “And giving to the fund provides tax benefits.”
Anyone interested in donating to the school through the North Dakota Community Foundation can contact Holen at 701-444-3626.