Unique Friendship Leads to Gift to Help Purchase DeYoung Natural Area Land

Nancy Gallagher and Andy KiseliusFrom our 2009 Spring Newsletter

The Leelanau Conservancy has announced that fundraising for the land purchase of the 145-acre DeYoung Natural Area on Cedar Lake officially ended on December 31, 2008 when an unbelievably generous and meaningful final gift of $104,532 was received to complete the private fundraising portion of the acquisition. The $2 million purchase has taken three years to get to this point with 673 private donations made toward the purchase. Another key funder is the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF), which has granted $910,200 to Elmwood Township for the purchase of the lakeshore portion of the property. After completing the acquisition process with the Trust Fund, the Township will own 60.5 acres, including the entire 4500’ of shoreline along Cedar Lake. The Conservancy will maintain ownership of the remaining 84 acres, mostly west of Cherry Bend Road. The Conservancy looks forward to working with the township to establish a long-term management plan for the township’s portion of property through public input at upcoming Parks and Recreation and Township Board meetings this spring.

“We’re thrilled on so many levels,” says Anne Shoup, the Conservancy’s Director of Charitable Giving. “DeYoung is a tremendous project with great community and ecological value. And the story behind that incredible year-end gift is pretty wonderful, too.”

That story goes back to 2004, when a local woman named Nancy Gallagher met two bachelor brothers in their eighties. The brothers, Vincent and Andy Kiselius, were living together in a small house on 41 acres in Greilickville. Nancy, a hospice nurse, was caring for Vincent, who was in the last stages of lung cancer. During the six months that Nancy visited their home, she developed an extraordinary friendship with Andy. “We began to have these great conversations and he was such an interesting man,” says Nancy. “We were at opposite ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But we developed this genuine liking and mutual respect for one another. My father was quite conservative too, and Andy reminded me a lot of my dad.” Vincent passed away in March of 2005, but Nancy continued to come by and check on Andy. She lived nearby and was concerned about him living alone. She fretted over the steep, narrow steps that led to his basement. Often she brought one of her two children along. They all liked hearing “Andy stories.”

Their debates and conversations continued for another two years. She says Andy gently teased her, calling her a “tree hugger”. He spent most of his days outdoors doing various projects on his land, and clearly loved it even though she says he was not what she would call a classic environmentalist. Developers regularly knocked on his door, trying to buy his 40 acres and its ridgeline views of Grand Traverse Bay, but he never seemed too interested in their sales pitches. (The 40 acres are part of the estate that Nancy has been entrusted to dispose of as best she sees fit and we are not aware of any definite plans for the property at this time.)

“Many of our discussions revolved around this county and the need not only to preserve, but to honor the land that fed us on every level, so I know that he did care about Leelanau County and its future. And if he didn’t love the land, I think he would have been living in the city.”

Having lived through the Great Depression, Andy was incredibly frugal. “He kept the thermostat at 60 or less so that I could see my breath, and I had to keep my big down coat on when I visited,” she says. He darned his own socks and even though she bought him pairs of warm wool “Smart Socks,” it was no surprise to find them in a dresser drawer, still in their wrapper, after he died in September, 2007.

Andy had made his living as a TV repairman, and, on the side, had bought and sold small houses in Traverse City. One day he drove her around and showed them to her. His only family was a sister with severe dementia who was living in a nursing home. He told Nancy that he did not have a will, and mused about what to do. She put him in touch with attorney, Bill Rastetter at Olson, Bzdok & Howard. Soon after, Andy asked her to become his trustee, and said he trusted her to do what she thought was right with his money after he was gone. Other than expressing a wish that some of his estate be directed to certain charitable causes, he told her it was up to her.

The trustee responsibility is one that she does not take lightly and says it is about “trusting my heart and gut about his unspoken wishes.” She knew after reading about the DeYoung Natural Area that it was a project she wanted to help fund. She learned more about the land and its history after her children spent time there with the Pathfinder School.

A Carls Foundation matching grant was due to expire on December 31, 2008, and Nancy realized that she could also make an even greater positive impact by ensuring the Conservancy would not miss out on the challenge match. It felt like the right time to make the gift. She had been in contact with the Conservancy’s Director of Charitable Giving, Anne Shoup, and knew the amount needed to finish the purchase and allow the Conservancy to claim the challenge gift. Shoup says that the land had to be paid off before the Conservancy could move forward on creating upland trails or restoring some of the historic farmstead structures. “We’re enormously grateful to Mr. Kiselius, to Nancy, and to all of the donors who made this possible,” says Anne.

“My heart tells me that Andy would love this,” says Nancy. “Helping preserve the DeYoung property, and what I think of as the Gateway to Leelanau County, seems a fitting way to not only honor the land, but also my friend.”

The DeYoung Natural Area is a historic farmstead with nearly a mile of frontage on Cedar Lake. This 145-acre parcel is just minutes from Traverse City, with frontage on both sides of the road. Seen by many as an oasis in a rapidly developing area and the beginning of Leelanau’s agricultural landscape, the property is bisected by the TART Leelanau Trail on the lake side portion of the land.

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