||Generosity of Davenport’s long-dead Hungarian count pays for college scholarships today
Alma Gaul | Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 2:00 am
In the late 1840s, Count Nicholas Fejervary of Pest, Hungary, could see that the future was dicey for people like him.
A revolution seeking to overthrow his country's Austrian oppressors had failed, and in the aftermath, the property of noblemen such as himself was being confiscated. Worse, friends were being executed.
Fejervary decided to flee Hungary for a new life in America.
In 1853, he landed in Davenport, where he built an estate on land that is now Fejervary Park. He chose the location because the steep bluffs and river overlook reminded him of his home on the Danube River. One of the original buildings remains there today, a three-story carriage barn with fancy windows and trim that needs some repair.
The park is one of several legacies left by Fejervary, who grew his wealth by purchasing more than 3,000 acres of government land in Scott, Cedar and Muscatine counties and selling it at considerable profit.
When he died at age 84, he also established a charitable trust that in recent years has paid thousands of dollars in college scholarships for Scott County students and to various organizations such as Scott County 4-H, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Meal Service of Scott County and the former John Lewis Community Services.
This past fall, the Fejervary trustees filed papers to divest the trust and transfer $1.35 million to the Iowa State University Foundation to create a scholarship program that will provide, in perpetuity, substantial scholarships for students from Scott County majoring in agriculture.
After more than 100 years of administering the trust, the trustees - whose membership rolled over through the years through death and new appointments - decided to end the trust because taxes and administrative costs were draining too much from the principal and interest, and that was not in keeping with Fejervary's intent, according to documents filed in the Scott County Clerk of Court office.
Also, turning funds over to the nonprofit foundation for scholarships would be in keeping with Fejervary's goal of helping those in need and with an affiliation to agriculture. And it would avoid some tax liability for the trust, according to court documents.
By investing the money, Iowa State expects to have about $50,000-$60,0000 available annually for scholarships, and it plans to award almost 20 gifts of $3,000 each, said Paul Caspersen, the executive director of development in the office of gift planning.
He calls that a "tremendous" award, noting that it nearly covers a semester of tuition.
How it began
Scholarship money isn't what Fejervary originally had in mind, though.
His trust was for the building of a Home for Old Farmers of Scott County on 4 1/2 acres of land north of Davenport's Rusholme Street between Grand and Arlington avenues.
The home would provide a place to live for Scott County farmers who had been in agriculture for more than 20 years, were born in the United States, at least 60 years old and indigent, according to his will.
But even in the early years, trustees had trouble finding people who met those requirements.
In documents dated from 1902 to 1904, the trustees reported that the home had just one resident and that staffing by a matron and superintendent was "imprudent" and "extravagant."
By the 1960s, the property had been opened to other people as a nursing home, and it operated as such until 1977, when it was shut down by the Iowa Department of Health for structural noncompliance.
The original building was torn down and a new one was constructed, opening in 1979 and known most recently as Fejervary Healthcare Center.
Meanwhile, year after year, trustees filed documents stating that they had tried unsuccessfully to find - largely through the publication of notices in the Quad-City Times - people who would meet the admission standards laid out by Fejervary.
In 1996, they determined that the original purpose of the trust was "essentially impractical or impossible," so they applied to amend the purpose and beneficiary provision of the trust, and that is when payments to nonprofit groups and scholarships began.
Decision to divest
At the same time, taxes were causing trustees to question the future of the trust.
In a 16-year period from January 1979 through December 1994, for example, the trust paid $235,558 in federal and state income taxes, according to documents.
"It is clearly not the settler's intention to set aside money to pay federal and state income tax," the documents state.
Administrative costs related to the trust's investments, as well as accounting and legal services, also were taking their toll, and trustees noted in documents that those costs "may well utilize annually a substantial portion of the income and principal of the trust, thereby defeating the donor's intent."
At the end of 2009, the trust showed total assets of $1,412,871. That included $563,065 received for the sale of land that the former Fejervary Healthcare Center sits on to Skilled Healthcare Inc. of Foothill Ranch, Calif. At the same time, Skilled Healthcare also purchased the 118-unit building, which was held by a different owner, and renamed it St. Mary Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center.
Most of the Fejevary Trust money was invested in bonds, certificates of deposit, and income, money market and mutual funds.
In October 2010, the trustees filed for termination of the trust and the transfer of money to ISU. Additional monies would go toward annual gifts of $6,000 for 10 years to both Scott and Muscatine Community colleges, documents state.
Benefits yesterday, tomorrow
In this way, the generosity of a man who died more than 100 years ago will benefit the lives of people living today.
Among those who already have benefited are Andrea Engler of rural Wheatland, Iowa, and Dan Klindt, of rural Eldridge, Iowa. Both received $3,000 scholarships from the trust in 1999 to study agricultural business at Iowa State.
Engler, 31, works from her home for the Minneapolis-based Land O Lakes Finance Company, loaning money to people across the country for livestock production enterprises. She and her husband Curt also farm, growing corn, soybeans and hay while raising about 100 stock cows.
Klindt, 32, sells turf products for River City Turf in Silvis, Ill., and farms near Eldridge, raising corn and soybeans.
"I really appreciated the scholarship," he said.
Previous scholarships went to students attending other colleges and universities as well, including Kirkwood Community, Central, Black Hawk, Muscatine Community, Augustana, Wartburg, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, the University of Iowa and St. Ambrose University.
Nonprofit groups receiving money since 1996 included the North Scott High School Vocational Agriculture Department for the benefit of FFA, Valley Shelter Homes, the Salvation Army and Friendly House.
Editor's note: Biographical information on Nicholas Fejervary in this article and the accompanying question-and-answer story is from documents in the Special Collections Room of the Davenport Public Library, including an article in the 1928 Palimpsest magazine, a tribute written by Octave Thanet, and the books, "History of Scott County Iowa" and "Biographical History and Portrait Gallery of Scott County Iowa."