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Published November 22 2012

Minn. woman leaves $140k to fire department

DAKOTA, Minn. – A Minnesota fire chief was left speechless when a neighbor bequeathed $140,000 to his department, an amount that’s eight times the department’s annual budget and perhaps enough to buy a new firetruck with the benefactor’s name on it.

The money was left by Eleanor Sanford, a Dakota native who died in September at age 99. The amount marks the biggest donation by far that the department has ever received.

“We can’t thank her enough,” said Dakota Fire Chief Scott Hoeg, Sanford’s former neighbor. He said he only wished the department could have thanked her in person.

The money has been put into a fund that will likely be used to buy a new firetruck, City Clerk Lana Gerlach said. Hoeg said if that happens, Sanford’s name is going on the front of it.

“She’d like that,” Gerlach said.

Shortly after Sanford died, Gerlach was told that money had been left to the department. She was under the impression it would be $10,000, so when she and Hoeg saw the actual amount, they were stunned.

“Neither one of us could even talk,” she said.

Sanford’s caretaker, Marilyn Hurt, said Sanford’s final act of generosity was entirely in keeping with her giving nature.

“Oh, that Eleanor,” Hurt said. “I’m so happy for our fire department, but I am not surprised.”

Longtime friend Mary Larson said Sanford always thought highly of firefighters and the hard work they did. She remembered Sanford as “just so thoughtful of others.”

Sanford also donated a piano to the Methodist church in town and gave $1,000 to the Dakota First Responders Squad.

Friends this week remembered Sanford for her big heart and dry sense of humor. If she had leftovers she’d bring them to a neighbor’s house, they said. If travelers needed a place to eat and rest, she would offer her home.

“She would always help whoever and didn’t expect anything in return,” friend Signe Cone said.

The $140,000 donation could be the largest amount received by any local fire department. Officials with the Lewiston Fire Department say the biggest donation they could remember was $15,000. The Winona Fire Department had received about $5,000 and the La Crescent department was once given about $4,000.