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'It's over': DSU Heritage Foundation attempts to build trust, raise money following previous foundation saga

Editor's note: This is the first in several stories about the dissolvement of the Dickinson State University Foundation. Subsequent stories will attempt to answer how the foundation got to this point and what is in place to prevent similar circum...

The Dickinson State University Heritage Foundation building is pictured on Jan. 26, 2018. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)
The Dickinson State University Heritage Foundation building is pictured on Jan. 26, 2018. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

Editor's note: This is the first in several stories about the dissolvement of the Dickinson State University Foundation. Subsequent stories will attempt to answer how the foundation got to this point and what is in place to prevent similar circumstances going forward.

It's been over three years since the former Dickinson State University Foundation was forced into financial receivership by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in November 2014 amid financial issues. Those three years included a lengthy legal saga that came to a close last summer with a final decision from Southwest District Court and the official dissolvement of the old foundation.

The dollar amounts from the receivership hearing are now available, and includes money for the university's Heritage Foundation, which was created in 2015.

Money received from the receivership was a combination of cash, real estate and mineral rights, said Ty Orton, executive director of the Dickinson State University Heritage Foundation. He said the Heritage Foundation received about $2.5 million in cash, a building located south of Scott Gym for students, and a house in Beulah, N.D.

"Putting everything together, it's not as much as we'd hoped because we wanted more on the cash side of things, but we're really fortunate to have a lot to come back," Orton said.

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The Beulah house is in the process of being sold, he said. The building south of Scott Gym is strictly for student living.

Orton said they were not expecting a lot to come back from the receivership.

"For the last two years, we've told every one of our donors that we weren't receiving anything back," he said. "We were very up front with them and if anything did come back, then that's fine, but we were preparing everybody and we were preparing ourselves for nothing coming back."

Everything the Heritage Foundation received will follow donor intent, said Orton, who added they are in the process of contacting all previous donors to have them re-sign all of their paperwork and to explain the situation.

Orton said one major scholarship the Heritage Foundation will offer again is the Travers scholarship, which was named after John and Alyce B. Travers who lived and ranched in Harding County, S.D. The scholarship was established to help local students from Harding County and Bowman County, N.D., further their education. The scholarship was made available through mineral rights royalties donated to the previous foundation.

The Heritage Foundation is trying to be as transparent as possible, Orton said. If people have questions about their donations, they can contact the Heritage Foundation or they will be contacted to discuss questions.

Orton said tax laws don't allow donations to be returned to donors.

"If we were to return money to someone who donated $25,000 in 1980, they'd owe so much money in taxes and then the paperwork would be terrible for those situations," he said.

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The Heritage Foundation is focused on making scholarships available to students, Orton said.

"(Giving out scholarships) it's all we want to do," he said. "We want to make sure that our students are first, and developing that relationship and continuing that relationship with DSU. Having the ability to bring in new students and retain students is important to us."

Tom Arnold, president of the DSU Heritage Foundation, said the foundation board puts in a lot of "hard work and does a great job."

General fundraising for the Heritage Foundation is going well, Orton said. Arnold said the foundation has an estimated $6.7 million between gifts and endowment money in a little over two years.

"We're making sure that the community and our donors and our alumni know exactly where the dollars are going," Orton said. "It's been a lot of work on our end, but it needs to be a lot of work on our end. We have to make sure the donors are very aware if they gave a dollar, you can trace that dollar all the way to the student that received that scholarship."

Arnold said the foundation will spending time celebrating Dickinson State's centennial in 2018 and has other new projects.

"We have several new projects. One is our giving week, which is coming up in February," he said. "We are attempting to regionalize and nationalize some of our alumni events so that we can draw some of alumni in from our distant sites."

Dickinson State University President Thomas Mitzel said it is good for the foundation to be able to move on and to start reconnecting with the community.

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"It's nice to be at a point where we're looking forward with a new foundation, reconnecting with all the donors, reaching out to everybody and making sure we're doing what we need to be doing," he said.

Orton said they are glad that the receivership case is over and that the Heritage Foundation can start moving forward.

"It's over," Orton said. "Everything that I've heard from donors and alumni is that we're very happy that it's finally over and DSU and the new Heritage Foundation, we're going to move forward now. That's in the past. You don't forget your past, you learn from your past but let's move on and develop something new and stronger and better."

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